Suggested Reading: Is there Honor Beyond Honesty by Al Sikes


Is There Honor Beyond Honesty?

America at its best is not intensely ideological. Today is not the best of times. Too many in the political and communication’s elite shape their messages or stories to fit their political intentions—knowledge is secondary.

Michael Bloomberg’s address to the graduates of Rice University speaks to a code of conduct that is needed well beyond the campuses of Rice:  

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. 

In the Cool, Open Air by Nancy Mugele


I am officially announcing that Spring has finally graced us with her presence – evidenced by my evenings spent on the porch this past week and the fact that I have dined outside for the first time since last Fall. It feels wonderful.

Al fresco dining is something I truly love. Jim is not a fan (something about pollen) so it makes for some very interesting negotiations with dinner plates in hand. I think it may be growing on him a bit since we now have a screened-in porch, but that is another story. The phrase al fresco is Italian meaning “in the cool air,” although it is not used to describe eating outdoors in Italy. Al fresco dining is, of course, popular here in the summer and I have greatly enjoyed it at the Fish Whistle the past two summers that I have lived in Chestertown. The auto industry also uses the phrase “al fresco motoring” to describe driving a convertible with the top down, but I like to think I am driving al fresco when I have my sunroof open and one hand up catching the wind.

Being outside in the springtime, in the cool air, breathes life into each of us as we emerge from the long, cold winter. Last weekend’s Paint the Town en plein air painting festival really warmed my heart. I loved seeing artists throughout the town, and even on the Kent School campus, as they painted our beautiful Chestertown. According to Plein air painting is about leaving the four walls of your studio behind and experiencing painting and drawing in the landscape. The practice goes back for centuries but was truly made into an art form by the French Impressionists. Their desire to paint light and its changing, ephemeral qualities, coupled with the creation of transportable paint tubes and the box easel—the precursor to the plein air easels of today—allowed artists the freedom to paint “en plein air,” which is the French expression for “in the open air.”  Merci Claude Monet!

At one time in its hundred-plus-year history, Roland Park Country School (my previous school) left the four walls of the classroom behind and became an Open Air school. Open Air schools were built on the concept that fresh air, good ventilation and exposure to the outside contributed to improved health (Wikipedia). The concept originated in Germany and these schools were designed with movable walls to the outside to prevent tuberculosis before World War II. The concept is a good one in my opinion. One particularly cold day this past winter, when there were numerous absences due to flu at Kent School, I asked all employees to throw open the doors and windows to get some fresh air inside. At a minimum, it made everyone – faculty and students alike – laugh at me, smile, and breathe deeply. Cool, crisp air is definitely restorative.

I am a writer who loves to write outside in the early morning. I wrote this column at dawn on my porch, al fresco and en plein air in my open air “schoolroom.” The slight chill and the breeze inspire me and the call of my ospreys motivates me to keep at it. (The coffee also helps the creative process along!) I think Chestertown needs a Write On The River weekend where authors and poets can take their journals outdoors all over town.

Thinking ahead to the weekend, it is definitely time to clean my grill. I have missed cooking and eating outside. A quick trip to Kingstown Farm, Home & Garden for a wire brush and propane after school is in order today.

Enjoy the cool, open air.

 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.

Carbon Dioxide, Friend or Foe? By Bob Moores


Good ole CO2, one carbon atom hooked to two oxygens. What’s the problem? Don’t plants love it, and give us life-sustaining oxygen in trade? Shouldn’t we be producing more, not less?

That’s one of the arguments of climate change deniers.

To understand why increased CO2 is a problem, I asked my friend Pieter Tans, an expert climate scientist, for help. Pieter heads the Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases Group in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

In 1987 Pieter and I worked on a project sponsored by National Geographic to remotely probe the interior of a sealed boat-tomb beside the Great Pyramid in Egypt. My job was to drill a three-inch-diameter hole through a five-foot-thick limestone block, while allowing no modern air into the tomb or any ancient air to escape. Pete Petrone of Nat Geo was responsible for photographing the tomb interior. Representing NOAA, it was Pieter’s task to collect air from the tomb.

Pieter is one of the most affable, unpretentious, competent people I have known. He is not prone to exaggeration. When he says we have a dire problem, and future generations will pay for our failure to address it, I believe him. He was happy to provide most of the data, and sense of urgency, for this article. The words are mine.

We must make this problem more visible. Please educate yourself, your friends, and your representatives. There is nothing more important than this, and it is why I have composed this essay.

Now to the problem. It has to do with the Greenhouse Effect.

When it’s cold outside, plants grow better in the warm, moist confines of a greenhouse. A greenhouse has windows that allow sunlight through to warm things inside. Because the warmed air cannot easily escape, the temperature inside stays warmer than outside. That is the familiar greenhouse effect.

The greenhouse effect with regard to our planet is similar but more complicated.

Our atmosphere acts as a blanket that traps heat and insulates us from the cold of space. The average temperature at Earth’s surface (all over Earth, night and day, all year round) is 59 degrees. Without our atmosphere, it would be zero oF, and Earth would be an ice planet, inhospitable to plants and most animals larger than bacteria.

How does greenhouse Earth work? Note the energy balance diagram that Pieter sent me last summer:

In this diagram, W/m2 means watts per square meter, a measure of energy transmitted or absorbed per square meter of area. You can see that the total radiation hitting our planet from the Sun is equal to the total radiation departing our planet and heading back to space. You can also see that the total radiation hitting Earth’s surface is the same as the total energy leaving it. Together, these conditions are called “in balance.”

Now notice on the right side of the diagram that a large portion of the energy leaving Earth’s surface is absorbed by our atmosphere and returned as back radiation. Why? Why doesn’t the radiation departing Earth’s surface pass right through our atmosphere and into space?

The answer is: There are gases in our atmosphere that are good at trapping radiation. These are called greenhouse gases. In the diagram above, all energy interactions are in balance, or equilibrium. However, an increase of greenhouse gases causes an energy imbalance which results in a warmer Earth.

The principal greenhouse gases, in order of energy trapping effectiveness, are:

Clouds and water vapor (H2O) – contribute about 75% of greenhouse effect.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – contributes about 20% of greenhouse effect.
Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3), and others contribute remaining 5%.

Although greenhouse gases comprise a tiny percentage of our atmosphere, less than a half percent, they are by far the most important gases that keep us warm. The problem is: we don’t want them to keep us too warm!

Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas increasing due to the activities of humans, currently comprises “only” 0.041% (by volume) of our atmosphere. That number is usually spoken of as 410 parts per million (ppm) because ppm units are easier to remember.

Water vapor in our atmosphere is also a greenhouse gas, even more so than carbon dioxide. Increased water vapor in our atmosphere results mainly from higher ocean temperature. But because higher ocean temperature results from higher atmospheric temperature and the higher atmospheric temperature is driven mostly by increased CO2, we come right back to CO2 as the main culprit in global warming.

Before the industrial revolution, carbon dioxide in our atmosphere was about 280 ppm, a figure that had been fairly steady for many thousands of years. Climate scientists know this because they have obtained samples of ancient air from ice core drilling in Greenland and Antarctica. By the year 2000, CO2 had increased to 370 ppm, and was increasing at a rate of 2 ppm per year. Today CO2 is 410 ppm, increasing at 2.3 ppm per year. These figures come from a worldwide network of sensors monitored by folks at NOAA and in other countries. NOAA’s principal CO2 monitoring location is the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. You can find the following graph, updated daily, at .

Note that CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing at an increasing rate. The saw-tooth pattern is due to periodic (seasonal) changes in vegetation.

Climate scientists are in near-consensus that the vicinity of 450 ppm produces a level of warming that may be irreversible. With CO2 presently at 410 ppm and increasing at 2.3 ppm per year, how many years will it be until we hit 450 ppm? Answer: 17.4 years.

Should we be concerned?

Global average temperature has been steadily rising since 1980, almost one-and-a-half degrees. There have been a few years where the average temperature has dropped, which global-warming deniers happily point out. But those years are exceptional, not the rule. Besides, climate scientists define climate change in terms of multi-year averages (e.g., 10-30 years), not for periods of one to three years. One or two degrees of warming seems hardly alarming, until we realize that global average temperature was only two to five degrees cooler during the last ice age, when a layer of ice one mile thick covered half of North America, and sea level was 400 feet lower.

Today a horrifying scenario is where all continental ice (e.g., Antarctica, Greenland) could melt. If that occurred, sea level would increase, scientists estimate, by 210-250 feet!

Part of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere is absorbed by our oceans, making sea water more acidic. Aside from being detrimental to marine life in general, increased acidity erodes and bleaches the limestone of our coral reefs, home to 25% of all marine species. Acidification of our oceans, in like manner to increasing CO2 in our atmosphere, is increasing at a rate and concentration not evidenced in the last several million years. Further, the CO2 we are producing will remain in our atmosphere and oceans for thousands of years.

Pieter likens our discounting of global warming to playing Russian roulette – with the gun pointed at our grandchildren.

What should we do?

1) We must wean ourselves from fossil-fuel-burning electrical-power production, the largest source of the CO2 increase. The leading contributors worldwide are coal-fired power plants. A better name for “clean coal” is “less-dirty coal.” Leave it in the ground. We must also reduce dependence on oil-fired and natural gas-fired power plants, the second and third greatest contributors of CO2. Obviously, these steps will take time.

2) After energy production, the next largest contributor of CO2 is transportation (planes, trains, automobiles, trucks, ships).  If you need a new car, consider buying a more fuel-efficient one, or a hybrid car, or an electric car. Of course, you can’t beat a bicycle or walking as a green way to travel.

3) Promote the use of “renewable” or “green energy” sources such as solar and wind. Hydroelectric power plants are also green. Nuclear power plants are green in the sense that they don’t contribute much to global warming, but they produce dangerous waste products.

4) Beware of deniers with covert agendas. They are like folks in times past who argued that smoking is not harmful to your health. Vote climate-change deniers out of office. Last year I wrote to Andy Harris (R – MD), imploring him to urge our president to stay in the Paris climate accord. He replied that he stood with Trump on that issue.

I’m worried about the future for your grandchildren and mine. How will they judge us? Because of fossil-fuel-burning, we have already committed our planet to long-term effects of warming. These include land loss due to rising sea level, more violent storms, habitat destruction, species loss, and forest fires. The best we can do is slow the progress of warming, so we have a chance of halting it. Pieter makes the point that “We are responsible. It is urgent for each of us to act, as it will take decades to transform our energy systems after we decide to get serious.”

It’s time to get serious indeed!

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.

Storms of my Grandchildren (2009), by James Hansen
High Tide on Main Street (2014), by John Englander
Finding a Pharaoh’s Funeral Bark, National Geographic, vol. 173, No. 4, April 1988


Op-Ed: Where are CBF and CCA? By Marc Castelli


The Baltimore Sun reported on a 4.1-million gallons sewage spill into the Jones Falls on Monday the 16th of April. It stated that heavy rains inundated the sewer system. Baltimore is consistently the worst offender of raw sewage pouring into the Bay. That is to the tune of millions of gallons of raw sewage. Yet no one from either of the self-proclaimed Bay’s apex environmental groups raises the alarm about Baltimore’s sewage problem. If you aren’t aware of where all that sewage ends up let me tell you. It simply ends up in the Chesapeake Bay.

For two organizations that constantly crow about their stewardship of the Bay and its resources, it seems odd that when such a serious water quality issue like raw sewage arises, they are strangely silent. Apparently, it is much easier for the Bay’s “watchdogs” to go after the low hanging fruit of the commercial fishery. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association are just not visible when it comes to the constant threat that Baltimore’s ongoing inability to handle large rain fall amounts resulting in urban runoff and sewage overflows. Granted these spills happen at an alarmingly frequent pace but to not be heard about them reeks of a jaded attitude towards such serious issues.

Past president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, Larry Simns and current president, Robert T. Brown, declared the MWA’s environmental concerns should be about wastewater management problems. If you pause to consider this, it will be easy to understand why a commercial fishery would be concerned about sewage in the waters from which it makes it’s living. Water quality is after all what we all are most concerned about. MWA does not have anywhere near the financial assets that both CBF and CCA could use to help ameliorate the issue of Baltimore’s repeated sewage overflows.

Let me give you a short history about the oyster industry and Baltimore’s sewage system. In the early parts of the last century, Maryland’s oyster industry was threatened by a cholera outbreak. You may ask how do oysters and cholera get together to sicken and kill people? Raw, untreated sewage is the answer. Baltimore did not always have a sewage system. It’s waste usually ran down the streets along with all of the garbage directly into Baltimore harbor waters and nearby tributaries. Somewhat like today. Oysters harvested in and near these waters were routinely shipped cold all over the U.S. to places like St. Louis, and Chicago among other cities. Maryland oysters were considered by aficionados to be the zenith of shellfish. That is until people started to get sick, and in some instances died.

Maryland oyster shucking house owners went to Baltimore and flatly told them the city was responsible and that if the city did not install sewers and a waste water system that Maryland would not only be responsible for widespread diseases like cholera but the state would stand to lose millions of dollars in profits and revenues. The sewer system that is currently in place dates back more than 100 years according to the Baltimore Sun.

The article goes on to state that the system is currently being up graded to prevent such releases of sewage into the waters of tributaries and the Bay. For the 25 or so years I have been involved in Bay issues I can only say I have been hearing such claims and they are not at all reassuring.

I just spent ten days working alongside watermen from the upper Bay doing what we call, “ghost potting”. Translated, it means retrieving derelict and lost crab pots. This work was done just outside of the Baltimore harbor at the mouths of the Gunpowder and Little Gunpowder Rivers. It was funded by MDOT and managed by the Oyster Recovery Partnership. The purpose was to mitigate wetland issues that will arise from the Route 40 bridges reconstruction over the two tributaries. Can you imagine what would happen to one of Maryland’s most iconic tourist draws if people started to put two and two together to conclude that crabs caught in that area are living in sewage-tainted waters? Go one step further and wonder what sport and tourist anglers would think if they realized the fish caught in the upper reaches of the Chesapeake Bay were having to swim in such waters? The folks that go swimming off the public beach at Miami Beach, where closures after such heavy rains are a common event, might also want to be concerned.

According to the Sun information about health concerns as a result of such overflows may be found here. Is there any reason why that information is not available from the CBF or CCA?

It has been nearly a week and yet no word from either organization. So again, I ask…Where are the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Coastal Conservation Association when such sewage overflows occur. Just because this happens, every time it rains hard on Baltimore does not mean that these well-funded organizations should not constantly be raising the alarm and pointing out the need for Baltimore to lead the way in its own wastewater management.

Marc Castelli is a artist and photographer living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His work is focused on watermen, lobstermen, their workboats, America’s Cup racers and their yachts, and the extended families that race their log canoes of the
Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore.

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


We named him “Lucky” in 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

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


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.

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


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.


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 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.

A Precious Thing by Nancy Mugele


With all due respect to Easter, and a slight nod to April Fool’s Day, to me the first of April signals the beginning of National Poetry Month. I know I am a literary geek, but as a poet myself, I am inspired by this month dedicated to poets and their craft. National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry.

For me, poetry has always been the vehicle which allows me to observe and comment on my world. I cannot remember a time when I did not read and write poems and I can still recite poems memorized in my childhood. I especially loved reading and writing Haiku as a young girl and later expanded my writing using rhyming techniques. In my early 20s I began to explore free verse or open form poetry which does not follow a specific pattern and that is the style I currently use.

My first published poem appeared in my local hometown newspaper when I was in the 6th Grade. I won a town-wide poetry contest and that was all I needed to throw myself into writing. I have had several poems published in Poetic Voices of America anthologies over the years and they sit on my bookshelf as a reminder to Write On. I wrote a poem to each of my children when they were born – that is another story – but, I have a journal for each of them which I hope one day they will treasure.

In addition to reading and writing poetry this month at Kent School, on April 27 our Middle School students will be inspired by Femi the DriFish, a spoken word artist and slam poet who uses his artistry to encourage others to discover their own unique voices. Slam poetry expresses someone’s personal story usually in an intensely emotional and very powerful way. I am so looking forward to be moved and motivated.

Last May I had the privilege to be a part of the presentation of the Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College. An incredible endowed prize that is transformational to a young writer. For me, a highlight of the evening was a talk by Baltimore poet Elizabeth Spires whom I know. Elizabeth began her career as a professor at Washington College while she was also writing poetry. Her sixth poetry collection was published last summer and she currently directs the creative writing department at Goucher College. In her address, she asked, “Why do we write?” She detailed many reasons like wanting to tell a story and working through an emotional issue, but her description of the need to write because it is “a precious thing” resonated with me. Writing is truly a precious thing and one that I will always make time for.

Elizabeth taught me the value of writing monosyllable poems – where every word is just one syllable – as an exercise in my writing process. After you have written one there are usually nuggets you can then explore more deeply. Here is an example of a recent morning exercise, my Monosyllable to the Chester River.

I gaze

past my own porch

to the edge of grass,

Where the sand smooths

stones made by time

on its beach.


The tide

in ebb and flow,

bleeds deep blue and grey,

While the sun sets

and geese land on

glass paths for night.

As I write now from my home office (aka kitchen counter) which faces the Chester River, a lone Washington College crew shell is passing my house slicing the water with care and courage. A precious thing is beginning.

Follow me on Twitter @nancymugele for a taste of poetry each day during the month of April and join me on April 17 at 5:30 p.m. when I am honored to emcee Chestertown RiverArt’s Listening to the Earth: The Art of Stewardship juried exhibition of art and poetry.

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.

Op-Ed: How Much Woods Would a Woodpecker Need if It’s to Succeed? By Tom Horton


The piney woods stretching for miles around us smell springy, as warm winds melt the last of a big January snow. At the crest of a rise, Bobby Clontz stops his pickup: “Look back . . . that’s a hard view to beat.”

A tawny, sunlit sea of native grasses and low shrubs laps the dark columns of tall, widely spaced loblolly pines. Light streams through the green needles, which gleam as they toss in the breeze. It’s a classic pine savannah, often described as “parklike.” Psychologist John Falk has found humans associate strongly with such landscapes, which resemble the African savannahs where humanoids climbed down from the trees hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Bobby Clontz, left, and Bryan Watts walk through the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve, just south of the James River. (Dave Harp)

Such pine parks once covered much of the Atlantic Coastal Plain, from Virginia to Texas; nowadays, perhaps 1 percent remains. And this remnant, including the 3,200 acres that Clontz manages here at The Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve just south of the James River, is now strongly linked with a tiny, endangered bird.

The red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as nationally endangered three years before the federal Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973. The cardinal-size bird depends on pines old enough to have become diseased with a fungus that rots their heartwood, a process of decay that can take up to a century or longer.

The heart-rot that would mean ruin to the logger is the salvation of the RCW, as it is commonly called by birders and conservationists. A red-cockaded woodpecker may spend a year or two of its five-year average lifespan excavating its nest, boring through several inches of tough, outer wood and creating a chamber in the softened heart of an old pine.

The red-cockaded woodpecker

Piney Grove Preserve is a “lifeline,” the last shot for the bird in the whole Chesapeake region, said Bryan Watts, director of the Center for Conservation Biology, who’s along today. Since the 1970s, as corporate logging took down the remaining great old pines, the center, part of the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University, has been documenting the bird’s march toward extinction in Virginia and researching its habitat needs.

“Mitchell [Byrd, founder of the Center] would come back to check on a nesting area and find woodpeckers flying around, landing on stumps where their habitat used to be,” Watts recounted. By 2002, Virginia was down to two nesting pairs. The last RCWs in Maryland disappeared from Dorchester County, their northernmost range, between the 1950s and 1970s, as the last old-growth pines there were clear-cut.

Virginia state Sen. Garland Gray, whose timber company owned Piney Grove, was no friend of endangered birds, deliberately cutting and otherwise altering their nesting areas to avoid restrictions of the Endangered Species Act.

Ironically, Gray’s company cut pines on a long-term rotation — every 70–90 years — unusual in an industry that typically harvested trees at much earlier ages. So, when The Nature Conservancy acquired Piney Grove in the late 1990s, it was already potential RCW habitat.
Birds had to be trapped and transferred from North Carolina to jump-start breeding in the preserve. We hear proof today that it has worked: the woodpecker’s nasal, raspy calls and probing the bark platelets of pines for insects.

Sheets of whitish sap girdling some trees make it easy to spot nesting cavities. The woodpecker spends a good deal of its day chipping sapwood around its nest to encourage a flow of sticky resin that discourages snakes and other predators from entering.

Piney Grove, Watts and Clontz said, is nearly at “saturation,” with 13 nesting red-cockaded woodpecker pairs and 70 birds total. The additional birds are integral to the RCW’s unusual, cooperative nesting. They act as “helpers” by helping to feed the nesting pairs’ young. A nesting “cluster” can require up to 400 acres of territory, Clontz said.

Setting the woods on fire is one of Clontz’s most important duties. He’s burned as much as three square miles at a time. Fire is key to pine savannahs, keeping the understory open and free of hardwoods, which discourages predators and creates the habitat that the woodpecker needs.

Expansion plans, using adjoining state forests and pending private land deals by The Nature Conservancy, could soon enlarge the bird’s habitat here to as much as 30,000 acres.

This is critical, Watts said, because all of the other RCW restoration sites in this northernmost part of the bird’s range (North Carolina and Virginia) may vanish because of accelerating sea level rise in the next century. An attempt to get the woodpeckers nesting in the nearby Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge has not yet worked.

What’s good for the woodpecker also lends needed help to other species, like the brown-headed nuthatch, chuck-will’s-widow, bobwhite quail, coastal fox squirrel and Bachman’s sparrow. All but the sparrow are thriving at Piney Grove, and Watts wants to introduce that bird here as well. Nontidal wetlands throughout Piney Grove form a rich habitat for state-threatened fish and salamanders. Clontz is re-introducing longleaf pines, too. Longer lived than loblollies, they form the primary red-cockaded woodpecker habitat throughout most of its range and once covered an estimated one million acres in Virginia.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is up to 6,000 nesting clusters throughout its range, extending through coastal plain pines all the way to Texas. The core of its comeback involved U.S. military bases like Fort Bragg and Eglin Air Force Base. Their training missions required preserving large blocks of old forest, which military exercises frequently set afire—a perfect prescription for the bird, Clontz said.

The little bird has driven big changes. Research on its habitat needs by Watts’ center has changed forest management across millions of acres, far beyond Virginia.

And the military, in part from concerns it that would become the last refuge for the woodpecker, created a multi-billion-dollar program to protect natural lands outside of bases for a variety of purposes, a program that now extends throughout the Chesapeake watershed.

Tending to the woodpeckers’ survival, as with so many endangered species recovery efforts, brings science and conservation to bear on restoring whole ecosystems.

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.