Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Wonder Neverland

The Great Big Digout
Record snowfall closes schools, leaves roads treacherous
December 21, 2009

As the region continued to emerge from the weekend's record December snowstorm, much of Anne Arundel County remained shut down today. Public schools, Anne Arundel Community College and courthouses were closed. City and county government opened late this morning, and most federal workers were excused from going to the office. And plowing crews struggled to clear roadways. "I would urge county residents to exercise caution," County Executive John R. Leopold said this morning. "The roads are still treacherous." Leopold said it could take until tomorrow night before all residential streets are passable. He said the county has 300 people and 200 trucks working 12-hour shifts to clear the roads. "We're doing everything we can," he said. As Saturday's snowy whiteout gave way to a sun-sparkled world yesterday morning, locals began the next stage of coping with the biggest snowstorm in years: digging out. Plows scraped major roads while, up and down residential streets, families armed with snow gear cleared cars, driveways and walkways, tossing showers of powder into the air. Elisabeth Hulette, Staff Writer, The Annapolis Capital
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It is one of those mysteries...how do these little critters survive the great outdoors, especially when everything gets covered with a beach-thick blanket of snow. As a follow up to the Finding Neverland fauna inventory, the principals right after our record snowfall were: the Gray Squirrel and Black Squirrel (1), Blue Jay, House Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco. I heard a crow calling from the junipers in the next door neighbor's yard (2), and caught glimpses of one flying far off in the sky beyond our backyard fence. Two weekends before, we had a little bit of snow fall, and a Carolina Wren picking at our suet feeder (note the feeder on the right of the pole in the photograph to the left). The birds seem to come in waves, leaving the feeder alone most of the day. The squirrel dig down into the the snow, and peak out and about...constantly being vigilant. Like in summer, the messy blue jays are a part of the food cycle for the squirrels, scattering seeds from the feeder above down to the snow below where the ground feeders find them and feast.

It was a good weekend for being buttoned down in our house. The snow just kept falling and falling - it started around 7:00 Friday evening right as we got back home after finishing Christmas shopping, was more than a blanket by Saturday morning, and continued to come down throughout the rest of the day. Even after digging out the front door landing and rock step walk down our front yard, and clearing off the cars parked on the street on Saturday, it was more than worth the money to pay four fellows who knocked on the door Sunday morning for a half hour of their services clearing off the drive way and sidewalks, while I again cleaned the snow off of the cars. Darrel - who also has a lawn business in summer - his son Darrel, his brother, and another fellow named Larry (unlike the the three brothers from the Newhart television show)(3), said I was the first customer of the day. It is funny how a number of my neighbors complimented me later about the time I saved compared to what they were then facing after having themselves turned down the crew earlier....and asking how much I had paid....and after barely making a dent in their own piles of snow, commenting that they would catch the crew the next time they came around.
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(1) The Black Squirrel can be traced back to 18 Canadian squirrels that were released at the National Zoo during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. For more information, see the Washington Post article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/18/AR2005051802251.html

(2) A couple of months ago while we had a work team retreat in western Maryland. Rick, one of my co-workers, has been a birder since 7, so we agreed to show up at the retreat with binoculars and go birding. After arriving and having dinner, we planned to get up early for a bird "watching" walk.

Early morning rendezvous'd
and so learn'd
bird watching is more about listening
than looking

(3) The Darrel's and Larry were as unlike the three brothers Larry and Darrel's from the Newhart Show, as a sitcom set in rural New England Vermont is from real-world Mid-Atlantic Maryland on a snowy weekend in December. Hard work, cash payment, and a satisfied patron with a cleared driveway and sidewalk, with not a care for the rest of the day. For a taste of the fictional Vermont Larry and Darrel's, go to the link at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwYw2i2icNg

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Joyous Light Hail Gladdening Light

Iucunda lux tu gloriae, fons luminis de lumine, beate Iesu caelitus a Patre sancto prodiens. Fulgor diei lucidus solisque lumen occidit, et nos ad horam vesperam te confitemur cantico. Laudamus unicum Deum, Patrem potentem, Filium cum Spiritu Paraclito in Trinitatis gloria. O digne linguis qui piis lauderis omni tempore, Fili Dei, te saecula vitae datorem personent. Amen (1).
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I have good memories of going to church when I was young. Even with questions about why we have to go, I can remember my parents loading us kids up in the backseat of a Chrysler or Oldsmobile sedan every Sunday morning, dressed in slacks with white shirts and ties. Afterward, when walking back to the car, we would ask whether we had been good, and were affirmed by Mom touching our shoulder blades and commenting she could feel the angel wings sprouting.

I am old enough to remember when the Mass was said in Latin - young enough to miss the option to learn Latin in high school - and when the transition to the Second Vatican Council changes happened - oh, so that is what that means in English. Even though I didn't follow what all the meaning to the ceremonies were about, Midnight Mass was a time of wonder....the choir in the loft behind us, the candles burning, the packed pews, staring back up the center aisle to see the colored vestments and procession walking forward, and then waiting in anticipation between the time when the incense were lit and when the scent reached me a short time later.

Jumping ahead decades later, a friend mailed us a copy of a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD for a gift. I remember when turning onto Conifer Drive in north Corvallis when I first heard Veni Veni (O Come O Come Emmanuel) play for the first time, I was caught off guard by a rush of memories from past Christmas Eves that flew through my head - echoing voices blending together... Latin verse... a clanking censer swinging at the end of a bronze chain, clouds of incense smoke rising up from in front of the altar... the scent eventually reaching my nose - that was Christmas Midnight Mass. Good memories, memories with emotions.
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Two weeks ago, Jan and I went to a Memorial Mass for the wife of a friend and colleague of mine. It snowed heavily as we drove from Annapolis to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Columbia, but regardless of the weather, many friends from work were there to show Charlie their support. He had graciously walked a long dark path for better than a year - telecommuting so he could help Jane while trying to keep up with his work, rarely showing the strains of the stress...a gentleman at all times.

The parish priest personalized the Mass because he knew Jane and understood what motivated her - his remarks during the homily mentioned how she was well-known for her dedicated service to the children of the church. In the last weeks of her life, I knew from Charlie that nothing was going to keep Jane from doing what she loved....she had just enough energy to prepare her lessons and work with the kids - then spend the rest of the week resting and recovering before repeating the cycle. It didn't seem strange to me that Jane would do that, because Charlie and I had compared notes off and on since we have gotten to know each other the past three years - given that both of our wives were in the same line of business.

There is something about children and their ways that is lost on most adults - it seems that their mission is to try to make kids into little grown-ups as fast as they can. On-the-other-hand, it is the kind of grown-ups who get down on knees and meet little ones eye-to-eye, build towers made out of blocks together, read stories... are the ones who show them what Jesus looks like - with skin on. From what I know of Jane from Charlie, she knew kids in that way.

G.K. Chesterton, an English writer who lived around the beginning of the 20th Century, was a thoughtful social commentator when he wrote in 1908 with a remarkable understanding of the kind of child-like relationship we adults should all have with life and its routines...like taking care of the needs of children in ways that children would want: "The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."
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There is something new about the old icon painted by Andrei Rublev showing the Holy Trinity - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - seated around a table (2). The old part being knowledge of the Trinity that goes as far back as countless Masses attended and prayers spoken, and the new part being the open place at the table - a welcoming scene giving an invitation for the viewer to join them. That appeals to me, the Holy welcoming the vulgar - me. Maybe that is what also appeals to a new generation of worshipers and musicians like Chris Tomlin - the reworking of the old Phos Hilaron hymn... making it into something new... making it a scene for what we can have now: "on earth as it is in heaven." And maybe what the new hymn will be when we sing in times future, past our time here, when we go to a room prepared for us (3).

I played the new Phos Hilaron (4) over and over on my drive to work the day I learned that Jane had died, with a picture in my head of a new room occupied by the three inviting hosts, welcoming a new guest to the fourth place at the table.

Hail Gladdening Light, sun so bright
Jesus Christ, end of night, alleluia
Hail Gladdening Light, Eternal Bright
In evening time, 'round us shine, alleluia, alleluia

Hail Gladdening Light, such joyous Light
O Brilliant Star, forever shine, alleluia, alleluia

We hymn the Father, we hymn the Son
We hymn the Spirit, wholly Divine
No one more worthy of songs to be sung
To the Giver of Life, all glory is Thine
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(1) Phos Hilaron (Φῶς Ἱλαρόν) is an ancient Christian hymn originally written in New Testament Greek. Often referred to by its Latin title Lumen Hilare it has been translated into English as 'Hail Gladdening Light' or 'O Gladsome/Joyous Light'. It is the earliest known Christian hymn recorded outside of the Bible that is still being used today. The hymn is featured in the vespers of the Byzantine liturgy used by the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions, as well as being included in some modern Anglican and Lutheran liturgies. Information about the history of the hymn comes from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phos_Hilaron

(2) Andrei Rublev probably lived in the Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra near Moscow under Nikon of Radonezh, who became hegumen after the death of Sergii Radonezhsky (1392). The first mention of Rublev is in 1405 when he decorated icons and frescos for the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Moscow Kremlin in company with Theophanes the Greek and Prokhor of Gorodets. His name was the last of the list of masters as the junior both by rank and by age. Theophanes was an important Byzantine master who moved to Russia, and is considered to have trained Rublev. The only work authenticated as entirely his is the icon of the Trinity, ca. 1410, currently in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. It is based upon an earlier icon known as the "Hospitality of Abraham" (illustrating Genesis 18). Rublev removed the figures of Abraham and Sarah from the scene, and through a subtle use of composition and symbolism changed the subject to focus on the Mystery of the Trinity. A few more details about Rublev can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrei_Rublev

(3) John 14:3.

(4) You can access a free streaming audio of a recitation of Phos Hilaron (Track 10) and Chris Tomlin's Joyous Light (Track 11) at: http://us.7digital.com/artists/passion/hymns-ancient-and-modern/

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Heals Over Head - Navy 17, Army 3







It was a beautiful day in Philadelphia. The skies were clear, not all that much wind, and temperatures were not so cold that with a few layers of clothes, dry chemical hand warmers, and a blanket over the lap, we were fixed up and in great shape until dark. As the Cadets first and then the Mids took their turns marching onto the field before the stands were full, and a few spirit spots ran on the big screen, a great video was run by CBS before the game. We didn't catch it until today, and you can catch it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqgQM9T_t9o
It pretty much tells the story, without a score.
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As of yesterday evening, it is now eight straight Navy wins over the Army Black Knights. For all the bravado by the Cadets, their not-too-bad Spirit Spots that outdid those crafted by the Mids, and
general attitude, the outcome turned out the same as the past seven years. The Washington Post summarized the 110th Army-Navy football meeting this way: And so, an afternoon that began with a bit of Army sass -- a goat's head, similar to the one worn by Bill, Navy's mascot, was batted around the section of the stadium that housed the Corps of Cadets -- ended as so many recent Army-Navy games have. In the final minutes, the Midshipmen in the stands waved brooms and chanted, "I believe that we will win!" Camile Powell, Sunday, December 13, 2009
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It was great to be back home in our house after the game - warmed up on the bus ride back to Annapolis, no anxiety about the outcome, the Commander in Chief Trophy assured, a guaranteed trip to the White House Rose Garden (unlike the absence of roses for another favorite team; see Disappointment and No Consolation). The emotions for Army have got to be for a world turned upside down - there are now generations of classes that have only experienced losses. The Navy Class of 2006, the class before our son was a plebe, was able to bask in four years of nothing but wins over Army - the same now for the Class of 2010 - and all the classes in between.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tales from the Perilous Realm

Speaking of college end-of-season tradition games - there is none greater than the annual contest between the United States Military and Naval Academies. As sport writer John Feinstein (1) put it in his book: Civil War: Army Vs. Navy-A Year Inside College Football's Purest Rivalry "Although Army-Navy may not decide a national championship anymore, it means just as much to the players as it ever has..." and to the rest of the Brigade of Midshipmen and the Corps of Cadets. So no matter how successful the season has been, and regardless that the second Navy win in three years helped Charlie Weiss find the exit door from Nortre Dame, it will be for naught, if the Midshipmen don't come through for their eighth win in a row against Army. But even beyond this football season's perils, the life of Midshipmen - soon to be commissioned naval officers - carries some degree of what is known as errantry: the state of roving in search of chivalrous adventure. Real life perils in uncertain times and far away realms - Philadelphia football fields, foreign seas, exotic mountainous lands and deserts, and orbiting space stations.

I have been reading slowly through a new compilation of J.R.R. Tolkien short stories and poems in Tales from the Perilous Realm. Great adventure short stories: Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham, Smith of Wootton Major, and Leaf by Niggle. But it is the poems of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil that leave me smiling. One of my favorites is Errantry which is copied below with photographs of a real voyage of the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship Eagle (2). We were able to join our son at the end of the second leg of the trip that started in Mazatlan, Mexico up the Pacific Coast to San Diego and then to Astoria, Oregon where we were taken out by a Coast Guard boat as the cutter came into port (3). With a little imagination, the pictures match the verse - describing a young mariner who wanders in a gilded gondola from the end of an era past. Though the rivalry of Army-Navy is legendary, so there are all the service academies - but then so is the hospitality - or is it chivalry instead? (see: Post-season Postscripts)


Errantry

There was a merry passenger,
a messenger, a mariner:
he built a gilded gondola
to wander in and had in her
load of yellow oranges
and porridge for his provender;
he perfumed her with marjoram
and cardamom and lavender.

He called the winds of Argosies
with cargoes in to carry him
across the rivers seventeen
that lay between to tarry him.
He landed all in loneliness
where stonily the pebbles on
the running river Derrilyn
goes merrily for ever on.
He journeyed then through meadow-lands
to shadow-land that dreary lay,
and under hill and over hill
went roving still a weary way.










He sat and sang a melody,
his errantry a tarrying;
he begged a pretty butterfly
that fluttered by to marry him.
She scorned him and she scoffed at him,
she laughed at him unpitying;
so long he studied wizardry
and sigaldry and smithying.










He wove a tissue airy thin
to snare her in; to follow her
he made him beetle-leatherwing
and feather wing of swallow hair.
He caught her in bewilderment
with filament of spider-thread;
He made her soft pavilions
of lilies and a bridal bed
of flowers and of thistle-down
to nestle down and rest her in;
and silken webs of filmy white,
and silver light he dressed her in.


He threaded gems and necklaces,
but recklessly she squandered them
and fell to bitter quarrelling,
then sorrowing he wandered on,
and there he left her withering
as shivering he fled away;
with windy weather following
on swallow-wing he sped away.


He passed the achipelagoes,
where yellow grows the marigold,
with countless silver fountains are,
and mountains are of fairy-gold.
He took to war and foraying,
a-harrying beyond the sea,
and roaming over Belmary,
and Thellamie and Fantasie.

He made a shield and morion,
of coral and of ivory.
A sword he made of emerald,
and terrible his rivalry,
with elven knights of Aerie
and Faerie, with paladins
that golden-haired, and shining-eyed
came riding by, and challenged him.










Of crystal was his habergeon,
his scabbard of chalcedony,
with silver tipped and plenilune,
his spear was hewn of ebony.
His javelins were of malachite
and stalactite - he brandished them,
and went and fought the dragon flies,
of Paradise, and vanquished them.


He battled with the Dumbledors,
the Hummerhorns, and Honeybees,
and won the Golden Honeycomb,
and running home on sunny seas,
in ship of leaves and gossamer,
with blossom for a canopy,
he sat and sang, and furbished up,
and burnished up his panoply.


He tarried for a little while,
in little isles that lonely lay,
and found their naught but blowing grass.
And so at last, the only way
he took, and turned, and coming home
with honeycomb, to memory
his message came, and errand too!
In derring-do and glamoury,
he had forgot them, journeying
and tourneying, a wanderer.










So now he must depart again
and start again his gondola,
for ever still a messenger,
a passenger, a tarrier,
a roving as a feather does,
a weather-driven mariner.

J.R.R. Tolkien, 1933
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(1) John Feinstein's latest article on the Army-Navy tradition can be found at: http://www.parade.com/news/2009/12/6-when-army-battles-navy.html

(2) For more details about the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Eagle, go to the link at: http://www.cga.edu/display.aspx?id=360

(3) For details about the Pacific Coast trip with written and video interviews, go to the link at: http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2008/06/tall_ship_eagle_docks_in_astor.html

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Post-season Postscript #1

Navy Cruises in Texas Bowl, Beating Missouri 35-13 to Wrap Up 10-win Season

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 1, 2010

HOUSTON -- The contrast between the players from Navy and Missouri was noticeable throughout the week, as they went through the various activities that led up to the Texas Bowl. The Tigers dwarfed their Midshipmen counterparts; Missouri's 6-foot-5, 240-pound quarterback was bigger than nearly all of Navy's defensive players.

But when it came time to play the game on Thursday at Reliant Stadium, that didn't matter. The Midshipmen executed better on both sides of the ball, and their star player, junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs, had a sensational performance. The result was a convincing 35-13 victory -- Navy's first over a team from the Big 12 since 1965.

"That's us every week. There's no team that we play that's not bigger than us," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "All the intangibles that people talk about in sports, it's real with our team: determination, discipline, heart. Our guys play hard. We're a team, we're going to respect others, but we're not going to back down from anybody. . . . We're just like 11 hyenas. We're going to take down an elephant sooner or later."

It was an entirely fitting way for the season to end for the Midshipmen -- who went 10-4 to tie the school record for victories held by the 1905 and 2004 teams -- and the senior class. Coming into the game, the 32 seniors had already accomplished so many different things: They won 34 games, including two at Notre Dame, and four straight Commander-in-Chief's trophies. Yet they were 0-3 in bowl games.

Navy was able to end that streak thanks in part to Dobbs, who was named the game's most valuable player. He rushed for a Navy-bowl record 166 yards (his fifth-straight 100-yard game) and scored three times (which extended his NCAA record for single-season rushing touchdowns by a quarterback to 27). He completed 9 of 14 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, and became only the third quarterback in Navy history to surpass 1,000 yards in both rushing and passing in the same season. He also lost two fumbles, including one in the end zone.

"Ricky is exceptional," said Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel, whose defense hadn't given up more than 131 rushing yards to a team since late September.

The game was billed as a contrast between high-powered offenses: Navy's run-based triple option and Missouri's pass-happy spread.

The Midshipmen -- who went no-huddle for stretches, something they had not done before -- held the ball for nearly 41 minutes and had 515 yards of total offense. They relied heavily on their slotbacks, who combined for 24 carries and 182 yards. Sophomore Marcus Curry ran for 109 yards and a touchdown, and also caught five passes for 97 yards. Senior Bobby Doyle caught a three-yard touchdown pass.

The Tigers (8-5) made a handful of big plays, but failed to get into the end zone after the first minute of the game. On the second play from scrimmage, senior wide receiver Danario Alexander -- who led the nation in receiving yards per game -- caught a short pass well inside his own half and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown. It was Alexander's eighth touchdown of the season of more than 50 yards, and it gave Missouri a 7-0 lead less than 30 seconds into the game.

"For us as a defense, the one thing that we really embody is perseverance," senior linebacker Ram Vela said. "We've been down in situations like that before, so it's nothing new to us."

For much of the game, the Midshipmen employed a new defensive package that they called "Tiger," in which they used two down linemen and five defensive backs. That seemed to fluster Missouri sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 15 of 31 passes for 291 yards and had two interceptions -- his first since Halloween. Navy also sacked Gabbert four times.

During one sequence shortly before halftime, Gabbert twice tried to find Alexander (six catches for 137 yards) in the end zone, but both times the Navy secondary broke up the pass. Late in the third quarter, senior linebacker Craig Schaefer (Robinson) sacked Gabbert on third and goal from the 2-yard line.

In the game's final minutes, Navy safety Wyatt Middleton came up with an interception in the red zone and returned it 52 yards. That pick gave Niumatalolo a chance to put some of the team's seldom-used seniors on the field.

Fullback Jack Hatcher -- who spent most of his four-year career on the scout team and had yet to play a single snap in a game -- came in and got a carry (he was hit quickly for a four-yard loss). Quarterback Greg Zingler (Severna Park) -- whose main role this season was as the holder on field goals and extra points -- was under center for the victory formation, and when the game ended, he was the one who got to raise the ball high into the air.

"I think this game in a lot of ways embodied kind of the fighting spirit, the heart of the team," said senior linebacker Ross Pospisil, who led Navy with nine tackles and an interception. "It's been a privilege to play with these guys. It will always be an honor."

Midshipmen notes: Sophomore Brady DeMell started at center for Navy in place of sophomore Eric Douglass, who was academically ineligible. . . . The crowd at Reliant Stadium appeared much smaller than the paid attendance figure of 69,441. . . . Jack Lengyel, who served as athletic director at both Navy and Missouri, and former president George H.W. Bush, who was wearing a Navy hat, were on the field for the coin flip.
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Post-season Postscript #2

Battle Plan Helps Mids Sink Tigers

By BILL WAGNER, Annapolis Capital Staff Writer
Published 01/01/10

HOUSTON, TEXAS – It was obvious to every scribe in the press box and all the fans in the stands that Navy out-schemed and out-coached Missouri last night in the Texas Bowl.

Navy’s coaching staff had the players well prepared and introduced a couple new wrinkles that threw off Missouri and proved crucial to a surprisingly lopsided 35-13 victory before an announced crowd of 69,441 at Reliant Stadium.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper unveiled a no-huddle offense that had never previously been seen in the triple-option era. Sitting in the press box high atop Reliant Stadium, Jasper could survey the Missouri defensive alignment before calling the play and having it relayed to quarterback Ricky Dobbs.

Dobbs has at times had difficulty against opponents that shifted before the snap and did other things to throw off his reads. Going no-huddle allowed Jasper to make the checks and make the Midshipmen had a good play and that the ball went the right way.

“Honestly, it was a way to help Ricky. We thought they might be changing looks and moving around and Ricky has struggled with that all year long,” Jasper said. “This was a big game in which we could not afford to make any mistakes. We wanted to make sure we got off to a good start on offense.”

Navy did just that as Dobbs directed two long drives on the team’s initial two possessions of the game. The first came up empty when Dobbs fumbled at the Missouri 20-yard line. However, the second produced a touchdown that tied the game at seven after the Midshipmen ran the triple-option to perfection during an impressive 15-play, 90-yard march.

With Dobbs not having to worry about making checks at the line of scrimmage and focusing solely on his reads in the option, Navy rolled up 515 total yards and made a proud Missouri defense look silly at times. The Tigers came into the contest ranked 12th nationally in rushing defense, but were gouged for 385 yards on the ground.

“Going no-huddle was a way to keep them off-balance as well. They had never seen us do that on film so we figured it might surprise them a bit,” Jasper said. “But mainly we just wanted to help Ricky out as far as the play-calling.”

Considering Navy had never shown a no-huddle look during the current triple-option era, Jasper was asked what made the coaching staff come up with the idea. Jasper revealed that he and Niumatalolo considered using no-huddle against Northern Illinois last season when Dobbs made his first career start.

“We’ve always talked about doing it and never did. We just thought this would be the right time to try it and it definitely helped us have a better idea with what to call and where to go with the ball,” Jasper said. “It helped make sure we were in the right play and made Ricky more effective. When he’s in the right play, he’s pretty darn good.”

Dobbs had a terrific game and deservedly was voted Most Valuable Player of the Texas Bowl. The 6-foot-1, 198-pound junior accounted for 296 yards of total offense and four touchdowns. The happy-go-lucky Georgia native rushed for a season-high 166 yards and three touchdowns and passed for another 130 yards and a touchdown.

Missouri was back on its heels all game and looked like a team that had never seen the triple-option before. Slotback Marcus Curry rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown and added 97 yards receiving on five catches.

“We did a great job in practice of trying to simulate what we were going to see, but you really don’t know until you get in the games and see the speed of it,” Missouri linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said. “It’s all about doing your assignment and we had several plays where guys didn’t take the quarterback, didn’t take the dive or didn’t take the pitch and that will kill you.”

It was the first time since early in the season that Curry has been healthy as he missed three games with a quadriceps injury.

“By the grace of God, I was able to be healthy for this game,” Curry said. “The defense was trying to take away the fullback and that left the perimeter open. The slotbacks were finally able to make some plays today. It was a good feeling.”

Navy had an equally innovative scheme on defense as veteran coordinator Buddy Green employed a two-man defensive line for most of the game. To counteract Missouri’s dangerous spread passing attack, Green removed nose guard Chase Burge in favor of an extra safety – normally sophomore Kwesi Mitchell.

Green went to the odd alignment after Missouri scored on the second play of the game on a 58-yard screen pass to All-American wide receiver Danario Alexander, who caught the ball in the backfield then used speed and moves to weave his way downfield through Navy defenders who were either well-blocked or caught standing still.

“We were just trying to get more speed on the field. Most of the (Missouri) stuff was throw and catch so it was hard to bring much heat,” Green said. “The way they spread you out they’re like a basketball team and it’s a fastbreak every play. They have a great offense with great players and we were just trying to find a way to slow them down.”

Navy played its patented bend-but-don’t-break style to perfection – forcing Missouri to settle for field goals on two long drives, coming up with three turnovers and also totaling four sacks and six tackles for loss. Heroes abounded with outside linebacker Craig Schaefer recording three tackles for loss, inside linebacker Ross Pospisil and safety Wyatt Middleton making interceptions, end Billy Yarbrough forcing a fumble that outside linebacker Ram Vela recovered.

Inside linebacker Tony Haberer was the unsung hero, lining up all over the field and sometimes serving as the missing nose guard. By keeping four linebackers in the game while using a nickel package, Green was able to use the linebackers to blitz from all angles.

“I’m so proud of my guys. They battled and battled the whole way. They absolutely played their hearts and left it all on the field,” Green said. “Our guys once again came up with big plays in the red zone.”

Green admitted it was important to record four sacks and notch numerous pressures on Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who had a rough game – going 15-for-31 passing with two interceptions.

“All they did was take a defensive lineman out and put a linebacker in,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel incorrectly said. “It was a nice little scheme and they did an excellent job, but it was nothing profound. Once they did it we adjusted. If (Gabbert) was in here, he would probably say he needs to play better. But I can also coach better.”

Navy had to go away from its unique 2-5-4 defensive alignment after Mitchell and backup nickel cornerback David Wright got injured. Green returned to the team’s base alignment, which was responsible for stopping Missouri on fourth-and-12 from the Navy 15-yard line and a game-clinching interception by safety Wyatt Middleton.

“We went back to the field team in the fourth quarter and those guys came up with two great stops in the red zone,” Green said. “It was huge that we were able to get to the quarterback a bit. I thought the series when we got the fourth down stop was huge. We got pressure two plays in a row and made (Gabbert) hurry the throw.”

Missouri came into the game averaging 30 points per game and was held to less than half that. Green praised Navy’s senior-laden defense, led by Pospisil the team captain.

“I give all the credit to our senior class. We’ve had tremendous leadership, a lot of maturity and poise all year long,” Green said. “It all starts with Poppy and goes right down the line with every other senior we have.”
___________

Post-season Postscript #3

Missouri Falls Hard in Texas Bowl

By David Briggs, Columbia Tribune
December 31, 2009

HOUSTON — Missouri’s football coaches spent the past 11 practices embedding the message into their players.

Looks don’t tell Navy’s story.

Even if, as senior defensive end Brian Coulter said, “their pads might be sagging off them and their offensive linemen might look like defensive linemen.”

But two plays into Thursday’s Texas Bowl, as Tigers wideout Danario Alexander sliced through Navy’s defense for a 58-yard touchdown reception, his teammates could be pardoned for contemplating the week’s prevailing question.

Could Navy, unable to win what Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo dubbed the “get-off-the-bus-contest,” really hang with Missouri?

“When you score the second play of the game,” Alexander said, “you think things will be easy.”

Said receiver Jared Perry: “Everybody thought that.”

Turns out, a far different question would soon resonate — one louder than the Brigade of Midshipmen's “Hey, hey hey, goodbye!” chants as the final seconds expired.

Could Missouri answer anything Navy did?

Bewildered by Navy’s two-man defensive fronts and its even more unorthodox flexbone offense, Missouri fell 35-13 before a half-empty crowd at Reliant Stadium. Bowl officials announced a paid attendance of 69,441, although empty seats outnumbered filled ones.

While Missouri only had 298 offensive yards after Alexander’s early dash, Navy time and again burned the Tigers via both ground and air.

Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs, named the game’s most valuable player, shredded every last edge of Missouri’s defense, running for 166 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for another. Missouri, allowing a season-high 385 rushing yards, only held the ball for 19:06.

“That was probably the worst performance since I’ve been a head coach of a football team, the way they played,” Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said.

Worst ever?

“No, as a head football coach in bowls,” he later clarified.

Either way, for the Tigers and their 16 seniors who have been part of more victories (38) than any four-year class in school history, it was an unsatisfactory conclusion.

They know time will lend perspective. A team that once fell to 5-4 after an embarrassing 40-32 home loss to Baylor recovered to put itself in position to close the season with four straight wins for the first time since 1965. Players called the season a success.

“Personally,” Coulter said, “I view this as a successful season because nobody ever expected this team here to end this season 8-4 and even go to a bowl game.”

“We came here and kind of turned Mizzou around,” said Alexander, who finished with six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown. “Our recruiting class right now has a bunch of four-stars. When I came in , it wasn’t like that. It just kind of lets us know that we turned our program around and that it’s going to be successful for years to come.”

Still, as moist-eyed senior linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said, “to go out like that, it’s pretty tough.”

Particularly for the defense.

They weren’t the only problem. Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert, flustered by Navy’s changing and overstuffed coverage, completed only 15 of 31 passes for 291 yards and threw two interceptions. And Missouri rarely tried to exploit Navy’s two-man fronts — Derrick Washington led Missouri with 62 yards on 11 carries.

But more than anything, the game smashed any notions of Missouri bearing an advantage against a run-saturated offense.

For the past three weeks, the Tigers had cited their ability to stop the run. If few teams ran as much as Navy — the Mids threw on just 96 of its 853 plays from scrimmage during the regular season — then it played into MU’s hands, right?

Missouri allowed only 96.2 rushing yards per game, 12th nationally, and held each Big 12 opponent below its season average.

But Thursday, two things became clear: The Tigers’ rushing numbers have been bolstered because opponents had so much success passing against them, and they had seen nothing resembling the flexbone.

Dobbs expertly guided an offense that gashed Missouri in every way. He pitched, dashed inside and out, handed to his fullback, even threw over the top. Dobbs completed nine passes for 130 yards on a season-high 14 attempts.

Navy nearly equaled its per-game rushing average (272.4 yards) in the first half with 216 ground yards. Only two Dobbs fumbles — one on Missouri’s 19 and another just before he stumbled into the end zone — in the first half prevented further embarrassment for the Tigers.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Disappointment and No Consolation

The end result is the same, whether I stayed up or not: Oregon State - 33 and University of Oregon - 37. It is just as well I couldn't stay awake through the third quarter - the pain of a 5:00 AM wake up call this morning would not have been worth waiting for the end product last
night. In the second quarter, I heard Jan clapping from way down in our basement family room where she stayed up to watch the game - the Beavers had just scored a touchdown. I had already gone upstairs to bed with my laptop - the play-by-play recalls on the ESPN Website were about a minute behind real-time. Even my boss was into the game - she sent an email some time after 1:00 AM: "that was a fabulous game, you should be proud" - there is no consolation with this loss. So I will just have to wait, and hope for the smell of roses next year on New Year's Day - Auld Lang Syne:

Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an nivir brocht ti mynd?
Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,
an ald lang syn?

An sheerly yil bee yur pynt-staup!
an sheerly al bee myn!
An will tak a cup o kyndnes yet,
fir ald lang syn.

We twa hay rin aboot the braes,
an pood the gowans fyn;
Bit weev wandert monae a weery fet,
sin ald lang syn.

We twa hay pedilt in the burn,
fray mornin sun til dyn;
But seas between us bred hay roard
sin ald lang syn.

An thers a han, my trustee feer!
an gees a han o thyn!
And we’ll tak a richt gude-willie-waucht,
fir ald lang syn.

Robert Burns, 1788

Friday, November 20, 2009

Plebe Summer - Redux

It is November 20, and I haven't made a posting since September 5. I have had lots to write about, but haven't had the time or energy to do so. I was detailed to a temporary job Downtown, and my pants havebeen on fire since. Simply put, I have adrenalin in my veins and the wind in my face. A project I have been endlessly working on since I arrived seven weeks ago was delivered today, so maybe there will be a break in the pace - at least for the weekend. I have heard that there are times at the Naval Academy when Plebes are deliberately loaded up with more things than they could ever get done in the time allotted, just so they can learn to prioritize under pressure. I guess I am living my middle-aged second young adulthood - my own Plebe Summer.

It is great to have the opportunity to contribute to something much bigger than I ever would have expected to do. Each day it is a half-of-an-hour drive to the New Carrollton Metro Station, and then another 30 minutes to the Smithsonian stop on the Mall. Each morning it is the Washington Monument a distance down Jefferson Street while I walk to the Whitten Building entrance, past the USDA Peoples Garden. The legs of the commute on Metro aren't so bad because on the way into work, I get to prepare my notes for my daily morning brief with my boss, and on the way home, I get caught up with my emails on my Blackberry(1).

At times these past weeks, things come so fast that I sit in front of my computer screen staring straight ahead trying to think which of five tasks that have to be done now I should do first - all the while the emails with parts of the project keep coming in, someone comes in asking for the testimony responses, staff meetings to attend, phone calls to answer, visitors wanting to meet.....other random drive-by distractions.....and then this past Wednesday, just when I am ready to leave early at 4:00 PM.... knowing what I am working on isn't due until Friday.... an email request from the Secretary's office, "send what you have revised by 5:00." Instead of my wife and me catching a quick dinner at home, we rendezvoused in the driveway of the house we were meeting with some friends at 7:00.... and she brought me a couple of tacos wrapped in foil for dinner.

The project had to be "done" today by 10:00 AM, so when I went to bed last night, I knew I had to get up early or there was no way to get it done. The alarm was set for 5:00 AM, but when I woke up at 2:00 the adrenalin release in me (sans any wind) brought me completely to attention: the modified outline clear in my head, the strategy for re-organizing the pieces that took a month to write in place. By 3:00 I was sitting at my laptop and telling myself I knew what I had to do first,.... second,.... third.... assuring myself it will get done. About 5:30 things were in control, I headed to the shower, dressed, and was commuting, with an arrival at the office by 7:00.

Tonight we served eight Midshipmen dinner: three Firsties, two Youngsters, and three Plebes. The Firsties will all be Naval Aviators(2). The Plebes - dressed alike in their navy-colored Navy sport shirts and khaki slacks - well, the adrenalin runs fast in their veins, and I hope the wind always blows at their backs as they sail on fair seas into their futures. As for me, I get to quietly sit back and watch and listen to their tales - relaxing, trying to slow down for the weekend and get some sleep - they and me in the middle of our Plebe experiences.
_______________________________________________

(1) Early this past week I was so engrossed in an email I was composing, that when we got to the end of the Orange Line, I didn't get off and didn't notice until I realized the train was heading "backwards" to D.C. The damage wouldn't have been more than 10 minutes lost, other than one of the secretaries from work emailed me the next morning asking what happened....I didn't figure on a witness.

(2) I received an email this past week from someone at work congratulating me about our son being selected Naval Aviation, along with a request that I pass on to him that "those decks don't stay in the same place all the time." I replied thanks, and wrote that he knows, with a recommendation for the movie "Speed and Angels" found at: http://www.hulu.com/speed-and-angels It is the kind of movie that motivates pilots-to-be, and gives mothers of pilots-to-be one more thing to worry about. Go Navy.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yesterday's News

It is not too often that I write to my elected officials asking them to respond to events I become aware of in the news - last night was one of those times. With email, it is much easier than before when snail mail was the preferred media. I never use those appeal-for-action form-letters that are forwarded by friends to everyone on their mail list - I know those are pretty much ignored - rather make it personal, and let it go, it's not personal - it's just business. I did this sometime ago about something I had read about concerning expanded stem cell research and all the benefits it was going to bring, so wrote to one of the Senators who was opposing that approach - I got a nice personal letter back from Senator Kennedy.

The item of controversy this time was created by the Associated Press news agency - News in the news. I really hope the controversial photographer doesn't get a Pulitzer Prize. Below I have pasted in the American Forces Press Service report from the Department of Defense Website as reference so as to not give credit to the for-profit press. I am bullish about the service Federal Agencies provide our society - I know I am biased because I am a Fed myself. At the bottom of this blog following the news release are the letters I sent to my two U.S. Senators, and our President.

Gates Objects to News Photo of Dying Marine

American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2009

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates used the strongest terms in trying to persuade the Associated Press to refrain from running a graphicpicture of a Marine taken shortly after the service member was wounded in southern Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today. Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard later died on the operating table Aug. 14. The Marine’s family in New Portland, Maine, asked the Associated Press not to run the photo, which was taken by Julie Jacobson, who was embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The AP put out a series of photographs of the Marine patrol, and Gates objected to one showing Bernard clearly in anguish while being treated. He had just been hit in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade.

When Gates heard the AP was going to send the photo to its subscribers, he called Thomas Curley, president and chief executive officer of the news service, asking him to pull the photo, Morrell said.

Morrell quoted the secretary as saying to Curley, “I’m begging you to defer to the wishes of the family. This will cause them great pain.”

Curley told the secretary he would reconvene his editorial team to re-examine the release. The secretary followed his call with a letter to AP.

“I cannot imagine the pain and suffering Lance Corporal Bernard’s death has caused his family,” the secretary wrote. “Why your organization would purposefully defy the family’s wishes knowing full well that it will lead to more anguish is beyond me. Your lack of compassion and common sense in choosing to put this image of their maimed and stricken child on the front page of multiple American newspapers is appalling. The issue here is not law, policy or constitutional right – but judgment and common decency.”

Curley got back to Morrell later yesterday afternoon and said his crew had “seriously considered the secretary’s concerns and the families concerns … but ultimately decided that they wanted to proceed with pushing out this image to their clients,” Morrell said.

Morrell said Gates was extremely disappointed that the Associated Press did not adhere to the wishes of the family. The vast majority of news outlets did not run the photo, he added.

_______________________________________________

Dear Senator Mikulski,

and

Dear Senator Cardin,

Please see the news report at: http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-general/20090904/Afghan.Death.AP.Photo/

I am very concerned with the behavior of the Associate Press, particularly with the requests of the Secretary of Defense for AP to not do so. I would appreciate any efforts that you can to express displeasure with the Associated Press as well. I have a son who served four years in the Army, and another who is now a Midshipman at the Naval Academy. Our sympathies and prayers are with the family of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard.

Sincerely,

/s/


Dear President Obama,

I wish to compliment the recent stand that Secretary Gates took in protesting the behavior of the Associate Press concerning their publishing the photograph of a fallen Marine in Afghanistan. I would appreciate any efforts that you can to express displeasure with the Associated Press as well.

My wife and I have a son who served four years in the Army, and another who is now a Midshipman at the Naval Academy, so our sensitivities run deep for the honor of our service men and women who have volunteered, and for the sacrifices that their families make. Thank you for your confidence in such leaders as Secretary Gates.

Our sympathies and prayers are with the family of Lance Cpl. Joshua Bernard.

Sincerely,

/s/

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Finding Neverland

In my mind, our backyard is just a bit like the English garden scene towards the end of the movie Finding Neverland - the part where the Johnny Depp character wheels the Kate Winslet character into a fantasy-like world filled with gentle beasts, fairies, and other creatures that Peter Pan would appreciate. Our inspiration comes from the garden at Heart's Ease (1) which is one of our favorite shops to visit when we vacation on the Central California Coast in Cambria. Jan and I love to sit on our patio when the weather is not unbearably hot and humid, and enjoy our evening dinner, and on weekends, breakfast. Trees towards the back of the yard block the view of Georgetown East Elementary School beyond our fence, and provides a green backdrop to the gravel paths and plantings we have installed, all serviced by a drip irrigation system to ensure that the occasional dry periods in summer are supplemented by artificial rain between summer thunder showers.

And what respectable Neverland cottage garden would be complete without a managerie of wild beasts, fowl, and bugs just waiting to be described. Since we are relatively new comers to the East Coast, near the Chesapeake Bay, like naturalists of old in the nineteenth century, we are assembling a compilation of species and their descriptions - sans stuffed specimens to later document their authenticity.

Birds of the Sky:

The Tufted Titmouse is among the smallest of birds seen in our yard. It is known to frequent our bird feeder occasionally. Most notable is its hair style, much like Sting in his old days with the band Police. Though its call is "Peter, Peter, Peter", I would gladly borrow from Paul, to pay Peter and catch more glimpses of this little might than the more common birds seen in our yard.

The Ruby Throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species west of the Rockie Mountains which contrasts greatly with the diversity of species we saw in the west. As a side note, when doing research experiments in red clover seed fields across the Willamette Valley - 53 sites over a three year period - two years in a row I saw hundreds of Anna's Hummingbirds swarming over the lavender-colored flowers sipping the nectar of each small floret. In our small garden, we have only seen a few of the plain-colored throated females. Hopefully, the new feeder we recently purchased will draw more.

Not to be confused with the tufted titmouse, the White-breasted Nuthatch is true to its form as described in my "Birds of Maryland & Deleware Field Guide" by Stan Tekiela. A few weeks ago, Jan and I observed two of these little wonders flying from their perch on the top of the fence between our yard and our neighbor Linda's, to the bird feeder that hangs from a tall crooked hook mounted on a pole that has been specially engineered to with a hood to prevent the Eastern Gray Squirrel (see description below) from shimmying up to the catch of seeds. The nuthatches would grab one seed, fly back to their perch, and then proceed to crack the seed open with repeated blows with their beaks. These little wonders should be more obvious in winter, since they also occupy environs of western Maryland in winter.

One morning before taking my shower, as I usually do I looked out our master bathroom window and down at the finch feeder in the flower bed next to our patio, and saw for no more than 3.4 seconds, a Piliated Woodpecker land, pick-a-peck-of....well a seed or two, and then fly out of the yard. That was a large bird, much like the Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker (2) that I remember which occupied the black and white television set in my parent's Central Valley, California home when I was young. Friends who live in Oklahoma who have a five acre yard that is occupied by large metal sculptures - one of which resembles a large, many toothed bottom fish - claim the call of the piliated kind of woodpecker greatly resembles that of the television kind's call.

The Northern Carninal - known as the Red Bird by my Southern friend from Alabama who now lives in Arkansas - was first seen by this native Californian, who was displaced to Oregon for 17 years and then promoted and transferred to the East Coast, while lying on a queen-sized mattress with the master bedroom blinds drawn wide open on a Saturday morning, in a leafless cherry tree before his mate joined him - the human kind - in late-winter or early-spring. The only thing that can be said: what a delight. It is easy to see why the early English settlers to eastern North America were impressed by the colors of the new birds seen in their new world. Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal are frequent visitors to "our" bird feeder, and are very territorial about "their" garden.

Among the largest of our back yard visitors, the Mourning Doves live peacefully among the plenty of seeds that are scattered from the bird feeder above by birds that at times are not peaceful at all (see description of the common grackel below). I have counted as many as seven at a time walking back and forth across the ground, bobbing their heads and cooing as they fill their crop to the brim. The doves I hunted on the farm when I was young were much like these close cousins, only now I would never think of wanting to shoot them out of the air in the early September morning or evening after flying back from harvested grain fields to native trees that lined the dry creek beds that cut through valley-bottom pastures where hereferd and angus cows rested in the shade. Such little bites of meat that were baked in my mom's oven, after plucking, and gutting, and washing under the faucet on the northeast corner of the barn behind our house. I cannot remember if the limit was 10 or 12 birds per day, but as I remember, my younger brother Dan was a better shot than me.

I read today in my book "Of a Feather * A Brief History of American Birding" that the House Sparrow was an introduced species to North America. It was quite the craze at the time in the mid-1800's to introduce species from one continent to another - and quite the debate as well. Regardless, this simple brown bird has a beautiful song, and flies in and out or our yard with great frequency. Though I have never seen it happen, these little critters are quite aggressive and will kill the young of other birds to take over a nest - sort of a gremlin of the bird world.

The House Finch is a simple, but recognizable by its rusty red head, but in no way confused with the Piliated or Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker. We were welcomed many mornings to the sound of a house finch that had a nest in the wall across from the headboard of our bed in our second floor bedroom. For two seasons we heard the scratching and pecking and eventually the muffled sounds of chirping young house finches. A year ago we had our house painted, but before the painters came, I pulled out our extension ladder and plugged the hole - we could hear the sounds of house finches hovering and trying to get a foot hold, but to no avail. Our neighbor John, on that side of our house, hasn't paid close attention to his visitors, so we still can see nesting house finches, but in his wall instead.

The Hairy Woodpecker, or could it be the Downy Woodpecker - it is only a matter of whether there are two red spots on the back of the head or a continuous red band - visits our finch feeder and proves only a rare appearance. Its black and white checkered coat gives it the appearance of Las Vegas lounge lizard with a red comb-over at the back of its head. With woodpeckers around, there is always the worry that they could decide to be urban developers and provide prime real estate for displaced house finches that have been evicted by evil tenement landlords.

After the Eastern Cardinal, the Gray Catbird is my sentimental favorite of the eastern fowl. As I first began to establish the flower beds in the back yard, a gray catbird followed behind, picking insect larvae out of the soil hours on end. Most notable was what appeared to be a closely cropped haircut around the sides of its head, with slightly longer darker-colored "hair" on top. In honor of our soldiers and marines with similar haircuts, we dubbed the gray catbird: Mr. High-and-Tight. His name - catbird - is fitting, because with some frequency we hear the sounds of cats perched in our trees. As for the grubs the catbirds were likely picking up - Japanese beetles (adult see below).

The Common Grackle is the pig of the bird world. They fly into the feeder, shovel the seed every direction but into their mouths, and then fly away, only to return again and repeat the cycle. If not for their manners, these birds are beautiful with an iridescent blue-black head and a purple-brown long body. They seem to travel in large numbers, as many as seven or ten at at time in our backyard. The best defense of bird feeders seems to be deprivation - don't feed them, they don't come; feed them, and they will come - in that regards, somewhat like Midshipmen, but without manners.

Another messy eater, the Blue Jay can cause as much havoc to a full bird feeder as a grackle, but their transgressions are more easily over looked because of the beautiful bright-blue coloration. They too can arrive in packs, and scatter seeds all over the created garden. One redeeming aspect of this behavior (as well as that of the grackle) is the obvious co-evolution over many millenium of this species with lower-on-the-food-chain species such as the mourning dove and gray squirrel that depend on poor table manners of the higher species for their subsistence.(3)

The American Robin, like the gray catbird, benefited greatly from the tillage of garden soil to establish the garden. Unlike the catbird that seemed to relish insect larvae, the robin prefers worms. According to news reports, the robin populations have been greatly reduced due to this species' susceptibility to West Nile Virus. Our robins seem to be doing just fine, other than the lack of an abundance of juicy worms.

Perhaps the most sought after bird in the garden for viewing, the American Goldfinch lives year-round in the garden vicinity. The males are especially striking because of their bright yellow color. The females have a more subtle green hue, the same as which the males have during the winter. It is important to check the special finch feeder to be sure the summer rains have not turned the seed inside into a brick of seed which is not desirable to finch, just as empty hummingbird feeders are to hummingbirds. As many as four or five goldfinches can be seen on two feeders at a time. This species announces its arrival with a simple chirp, and flies in an interesting, darting fashion, typically to view the feeder where it had just flow from, and then viewing again the feeder to where it will fly next.

Beasts of the Land:

The Eastern Box Turtle is known to inhabit various natural covers in the garden including the pallet that the compost bin sits on top of and under various shrubbery (4). When its hiding place is discovered by an unexpecting gardener pulling weeds - typically when the box turtle moves it prehistoric reptilian head - the gardener will go into self-defense flight behavior immediately after leaving a clear yellow liquid between himself and the reptile to thwart being followed while in flight. Initially the naming of this species "Mr. Slowski" by the gardener's wife seemed appropriate and very creative, but the gardener was humiliated when he discovered the same-named species on Cable Television commercials preceded the wife's naming of the species - this too caused the gardener to desire going into flight mode, but hung in there and had a good laugh.

There are more than enough Gray Squirrels in our yard at a time to fill a stew pot. These rascals will likely be the culprits who prevent urban agriculture from being a viable enterprise, at least in this part of Annapolis. For two seasons, our peach trees that are destined for espalier like the ones at Mount Vernon, have been picked bare. This past spring, a squirrel must have wanted to rub it in our face, because a single pit rested on the top of a fence plank - perfectly balanced, gleaming under a clear blue sky. The only consolation is that they are observed to take bark mulch bathes in late summer, so perhaps the other pestilence will prevail on their sleek little bodies. One must be careful when putting out expensive bird feeder poles that are fitted with devices to prevent them from climbing up to the feeder - when such poles are placed within jumping range of overhanging branches, fences, or shrubbery, the garden owner must either treat squirrels as doves in Central California (see above under Mourning Dove), or move the pole.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbits eat young azalea shrubs......and newly planted blueberry bushes......and $7.00 a pot echinacea plants shortly after transplanting....and countless who-knows-what-else-failed-in-the-English-cottage-garden. Other than that, this species provides one of the closest links to the enchantment of the garden shown towards the end of Finding Neverland movie. Both young cottontails and adult cottontails can be found in the garden, especially in spring. Rarely are they found splattered in the road like squirrels. It has also been observed when given the opportunity to slam one of these beasts with the backside of a shovel, it is best not to ask your wife for permission. Due to this fact, it will be a long time until this species becomes endangered in our English cottage garden ecosystem.

Winged Insects in the Air:

Monarch Butterfly. I remember a quarter mile long row of fig trees that lined the dirt road on my dad's farm which led back to the cattle corrals, squeeze pen, and ramp for loading the cattle onto trucks to either take to far pastures, or to market. It was along this road one winter when my dad's horse slipped on a quick turn to head off a bolting cow and fell on his leg, producing compound fracture. When I rode up, Dad told me to get off my horse and run home and get Mom, and tell her to call an ambulance because he had broken his leg. My mom still recants years later how she responded she would take the car, but I protested and said that wouldn't do because "his leg was broken off."

I remember one year the fig trees were swarming with Monarch Butterflies during their migration north from Mexico. We lived 302 miles from the Mexico-U.S. border, so our trees must have been an Interstate freeway rest stop, still, quite a feat for such delicate insects. I also remember going back to my house and getting my butterfly net and a canning jar with cotton balls soaked in lighter fluid so I could capture and collect as many of these travelers as possible for posterity, not too unlike Victorian era naturalists who shot and stuffed their specimens for display at world exhibitions in great cities, or maybe even for the Smithsonian Institution or other museums of learning and wonder for young barefoot boys.

The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly looks the same to me as the Oregon Swallowtail butterfly. Both frequent impatience blossomes, roses, marigolds, and such. As far back as I can remember, the yellow swallowtail butterflies were real butterflies. The sulfur butterflies, both white and yellow, were not real butterflies - real butterflies have spectacular-sized wings and are bright colored, or have interesting patterns on their wings. As a child, they are worth pursuing, capturing, asphyxiating in jars filled with petroleum distillates. As an adult, they are worthy of viewing for unlimited amounts of time, to just get to know them - let them be undisturbed as the light gently from one flower to the next, like sampling all the dishes at an all-you-can-eat buffet, but somehow their waistline stays trim.

The Spicebrush Swallowtail Butterfly was a new find in the Neverland cottage garden. When doing this research, I had to confirm that indeed, in the wild, there are bright-blue colored spots on the lower part of the wings - I was first impressed by the dark black that dominates their wing color. Like the swallowtails and monarches, the spicebrush quietly floats from one flower to the next. Like a good backpacker hiking through virgin wilderness, walks lightly along invisible trails through the air.

Japanese Beetle. "So that's what is eating our rose buds." This inhabitant of the eastern garden was not known to the western Willamette Valley, Oregon gardener. There the only rosebud eaters were White Tailed Deer who roamed the Corvallis suburbs in the coastal mountain foothills. Before six-foot fences or fenced off patios, the gardener could easily loose not only rows of annual flowers planted in bordering beds, but also succulent rose buds and leaves - typically right before full bloom was about to happen. The remedy for Japanese Beetles is much less expensive than deer fences - a simple $5 phermone trap fitted with a small black plastic bag which must seem like Dante's Inferno when an unlucky victim is swallowed up by the black abyss right below the artificial scent of its mate - without the passion.

Common Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia) is found in all parts of the United States except the Northwest states. For me as a child, it was a special treat to see one, and reading a reference about butterflies, I now realize that I had missed it all those years in Oregon. An important trivial fact is that the Common Buckeye was featured on the 2006 United States Postal Service 24-cent postage stamp. Such knowledge is critical is one is serious about wanting to win parlor games.

_____________________________________________

(1) The Weblink for Heart's Ease is: http://www.heartseaseshop.com/

(2) For a more complete description of the Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker, see the link at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Lantz

(3) Still to be worked out in this theory is what role expensive bird feeder poles fitted with access denial devices had in the evolution of squirrel behavior, particularly it impact on their reach from convenient jumping platforms provided by elements of English cottage gardens.

(4) For a re-enactment of the first documented need for shrubbery to be used in English cottage gardens, see the link at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UbtcmjfKa8

Friday, August 21, 2009

Just a Little Hospitality

As I merged onto Route 50 on my way to work this morning, I noticed a hearse in my side mirror coming up from behind in the middle of the three lanes. I now drive my new Prius for economy mileage by using the heads-up display gauges in the dashboard, so I don't accelerate like I used to - there is nothing like getting 55 miles to the gallon. As the hearse passed me, I saw a flag draped coffin inside, and following close behind was a dark Ford Focus - likely a military escort I thought - I didn't feel like listening to the rest of the long version of Creedence Clearwater's Susie Q on the XM Satellite radio station I was tuned into. I turned off the radio and pulled in behind the subcompact Ford, what was likely a rental. There was no need to go my typical 75 miles per hour - 69 would do fine - I had a good idea where they were heading, west on Route 50 towards Washington. It was like I had seen this before.

I am usually slow wanting to see new movies. For me, it is such a big commitment to get into the plot, get to know the characters, and figure out whether their chemistry is going to work. It was the same way when I caught glimpses of advertisements for HBO's Taking Chance, I didn't have a clue what that movie was about - another military story. There may have been mention of Taking Chance on the Naval Academy Parent's list serve, I don't really remember, but by the weekend it was to show on television, I wanted to see it.

Taking Chance is a gut breaker. I sobbed off and on throughout the entire movie, and have watched it four or five times since then. I am getting better at handling it emotionally - but still not all that much better - Jan asks me each time from another room why I keep torturing myself - she doesn't want to watch. [1]

The hearse and trailing car stayed in the center lane most of the 15 miles from Annapolis, through Bowie, and to I-495 - I stayed close behind, close enough to see the Delaware license plate - that made it more likely they had come from Dover Air Force Base. I had known of Dover, but when the first clandestine photographs of flag-draped coffins coming in from Iraq hit the news, I began to understand what the base represents. When our Army son was first posted at Fort Myer, he made a couple of "Dover Runs" in Blackhawk helicopters to escort fallen soldiers from Dover to Arlington - that was before he was assigned to the Tomb of the Unknowns - these soldiers where Knowns. By now, there have been many similar escorts to all points of the country - to date, 5127 fallen service men and women have been received back in the U.S.

If not for Taking Chance, I would not have fully grasped what I caught a glimpse of when I first got on the freeway. But the methodical detail of the journey Lance Corporal Chance Phelps made from Iraq to Dubois, Wyoming is fixed in my memory for life - a hearse, the flag, a trailing rental car, now me following - like the cars and trucks in the movie: not in a hurry, not wanting to pass, a part of a procession, but not with my headlights on - it was just a little thing I could do. As we got to the Beltway interchange, the hearse and I merged into the lane to Richmond, I-495 S. I could tell that the escort was a little panicked by the way he kept looking back over his right shoulder for a way to pull back in behind the hearse - I briefly saw a young soldier with close cropped hair in his Class B Dress Uniform. I slowed down and held up the cars behind me, making space between the hearse and me so the escort could slide in between us. As he fell in behind the hearse, I made my next merge to the I-495 N lane as the two others continued in the south-bound exit, pretty much confirming they were likely headed to Arlington National Cemetery - me, I was on my way to Beltsville.

The meaning of the word hospitality in Greek is to show kindness to strangers. That is what I thought about when I was following behind the short procession in front of me. Two strangers I will never know: one a fallen soldier and the other an Army escort; me not rushing to work, quietly following, yielding to a car needing to keep pace, a soldier doing his duty as his Nation asks him to do, on their way to a quiet place for rest.

The detailed story of Chance Phelp's journey written by Lt. Col. Mike Strobl (USMC, ret.) can be found here.

Information about the Chance Phelps Foundation supporting veteran and Gold Star families can be found here.

Be sure to watch the movie Taking Chance, it is out on video. You can view the movie trailer here.
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[1] Since this posting, we have had closer encounters with this subject: A soldier our son (shown above) served with at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was killed in Afghanistan on October 28, 2010; we and our son attended his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery; our son suffers from PTSD - partly triggered by his friend's death; and my wife watched most of Taking Chance about six months ago. December 18, 2011.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fireflies Illustrated

One of the few positives about hot and humid summer days here in the east is the appearance of fireflies (1). I think I became aware of these little beetles when I first rode the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Those little faux creatures were probably light emitting diodes hanging from black-colored wires that gave the appearance of small Christmas lights strung out across the bayou - blinking on and off to the plucked stings of a banjo. My next encounter was as a graduate student trying to repeat seed energetics experiments using a liquid scintillation counter. A carefully measured amount of luciferin-luciferase (2) reagent was injected from a micro-syringe into a cocktail of ground up sugarbeet seeds and chemical buffers in the hope that the resulting amount of light that glowed was proportional to the amount of active adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the seeds - an indicator of the energy capacity of the sample. The relevance of all this is that the source of the glowing concoction was none other than fireflies that were raised for their abdomens in a controlled environment by a chemical supply company - they gave their all for science. A professor of mine in graduate school, Te May Ching, refined this technology for studying the vigor of seeds.

For those poor little ones - there was no justice.

Jump ahead 25 years, it was early June 2006 and my wife was making final preparations for her move East to join me. On my way West to join up, attend our youngest's high school graduation, watch the movers pack up our house and turn our keys over to the new owners, see our second grandson born, then fly back to Maryland, and three days later deliver our son to the Naval Academy - I went south to Georgia to do location visits at two of my agency's laboratories, and speak at a conservation society meeting in the mountains north of Atlanta. After arriving at Watkinsville, one of my friends at the laboratory invited me to join him and his wife for dinner at their home - Southern hospitality. After sitting out on their back deck - perched over a steep grade that dropped down through the woods to a creek - and having an enjoyable dinner and conversation, my host offered to show me the front yard. We went through the house and out the front door where to my amazement was a stunning display of twinkling lights covering the shrubs and trees. When I asked Harry how he had set out all of those twinkle lights, he just laughed and said: "Those aren't twinkle lights, those are lightning bugs!" - it may as well have been a Southerner taking a city-raised Yankee out for a snipe hunt (3). Even this past week, three years later, he mentioned that he had told someone that story about me.

The bug's revenge - there is justice in the world.

Regardless of how hot and humid the day, I know that the pleasure of fireflies' company will be the summer's treat - I can count on it. Whether taking a walk down the street in the neighborhood, or sitting in the backyard with the patio light off.... the silent, cool flashes of these floating wonders against a dark background will be there - an evening display well worth the wait (4).

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(1) Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies are capable of producing a "cold light", containing no ultraviolet or infrared rays. This chemically-produced light, emitted from the lower abdomen, may be yellow, green, or pale red in color, and has a wavelength from 510 to 670 nanometers.

There are more than 2,000 species of firefly found in temperate and tropical environments around the world. Many species can be found in marshes or in wet, wooded areas where their larvae have abundant sources of food. These larvae can also emit light and are often called "glowworms", particularly in Eurasia. In the Americas, "glow worm" also refers to the related Phengodidae.

(2) In luminescent reactions, light is produced by the oxidation of a luciferin (a pigment):

luciferin + O2 → oxyluciferin + light

The most common luminescent reactions release CO2 as a product. The rates of this reaction between luciferin and oxygen are extremely slow until they are catalyzed by luciferase, sometimes mediated by the presence of cofactors such as calcium ions or ATP. The reaction catalyzed by firefly luciferase takes place in two steps:

luciferin + ATP → luciferyl adenylate + PPi

luciferyl adenylate + O2 → oxyluciferin + AMP + light

The reaction is very energetically efficient: nearly all of the energy input into the reaction is transformed into light. As a comparison, the incandescent light bulb loses about 90% of its energy to heat.

(3) A snipe hunt, a type of practical joke that involves experienced people making fun of newcomers by giving them an impossible or imaginary task. The origin of the term is a practical joke where inexperienced campers are told about a bird or animal called the snipe as well as a usually ridiculous method of catching it, such as running around the woods carrying a bag or making strange noises. Incidentally, the snipe (a family of shorebirds) is difficult to catch for experienced hunters, so much so that the word "sniper" is derived from it to refer to anyone skilled enough to shoot one.

(4) The numbers of fireflies where we live are not at all as great, so the displays here are not as spectacular as the one I saw in Georgia. But here the advantage is I can watch and concentrate on only one or a few at a time - following each one's path, either slowly flying on a calm night or invisibly catapulted by a breeze between flashes to the next sighting. The pleasure of studying one here is inversely proportional to the attention to each in a great crowd, but together they provide the same collective pleasure as watching one alone.