Out and About (Sort of): Curtain Closes on Circus by Howard Freedlander

A 146-year-old tradition that once defined family entertainment at its best came to a nostalgic end the past Saturday at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. My wife and I joined thousands of others to bade farewell to the storied Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

It was sad in so many ways. Absent elephants that once symbolized the “Greatest Show on Earth” and profits that kept this famous entertainment vehicle on view throughout our nation, Ringling Bros. declared an end to its deficit-laden business model. Understandable, but emotionally painful as well.

It’s become a cliché to say that Americans experience many demands on their entertainment dollars. Ringling ticket sales have declined for years. Loss of the highly popular elephants due to complaints from animal rights activists exacerbated an already fragile business model.

Just think about it. In 1871, the high-tech entertainment world in which we now live would have seemed like science fiction. Family recreation had no electronic dimensions. A circus with its fantastic variety of acts, often thrilling and dangerous, but always colorful, compelled the attention of families undistracted by TV or radio or computers or smartphones or video apps.

We can’t go back to a simpler time. We can’t dwell on nostalgia. The past is just that, for better or for worse. Public taste changes.

The Ringling Bros. circus filled the seats on Saturday afternoon, mostly with young families and a smattering of grandparents who needed their fix on childhood memories. No one was disappointed.

What amazed me was that the circus I viewed Saturday had little resemblance to what I recalled about the Big Top of yore. Ironically, it had a modern twist, with the theme based upon space travel. I was taken aback. While Ringling Bros. has worked to add modernity to its show, including motorized cycles traveling speedily within an enclosed metal cylinder, the changes were to no avail.

My reading of several articles about the demise of Ringling Bros point to the high cost of offering two traveling editions employing about 500 people and transporting by train a mini-city. As noted, ticket sales have been falling. As I read, smaller circuses still are profitable.

Royal Farms Arena seemed sadly inadequate to me, particularly for a grand, historic show taking its last bow. It was small. Seats were small and cramped, as if on a Southwest Airlines aircraft. The ceiling is relatively low. And the circus had one ring.

Tigers and lions are always a treat, still obedient to their intrepid trainer. The clowns still provide a laugh or two, but it just seemed half-hearted. The ringmaster was mediocre, perhaps because either he enunciated poorly, or my hearing has diminished. I didn’t expect to see ice skaters nor so many stunts on ice.

Despite my critical comments, I felt drawn to the circus, perhaps due to its link to my childhood. A run of 146 years, spanning two world wars, economic downturns and untold cultural changes, is a long one. While the Feld Family, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, modernized the show, it no longer could withstand the high operating costs and diminishing ticket sales. Loss of the signature elephants, which symbolized the circus to young and old, was the final blow.

My grandchildren will see smaller circuses. So this form of family entertainment will continue on a reduced scale. The drama and romance of the renowned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be history.

Accepting the inevitability and even desirability of change, I left Royal Farms Arena Saturday afternoon feeling a tinge of sorrow for the final act of the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

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

Out and About (Sort of): Lacrosse and Easter Revive the Soul and Spirit by Howard Freedlander

On the day before Easter, as overcast conditions yielded to sunshine, I went with a friend and our two grandsons to watch a lacrosse game between Army and Navy at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The ancient rivalry between our nation’s two best-known military academies is always thrilling—featuring an equal amount of skill and emotion.

For me, the game of lacrosse fascinates and delights me. I began playing when I was 10-years-old in a Baltimore neighborhood where I’ve often said that had I played any sport other than lacrosse, I would have had no friends. Lacrosse reigned supreme in the community of Mt. Washington.

Funded by Native Americans in what is now Canada as early as the 17th century, according to Wikipedia, “traditional lacrosse games were sometimes major events that could last several days. As many as 100 to 1,000 men from opposing villages or tribes would participate.

The games were played in open plains located between the two villages, and the goals could range from 500 yards to 6 miles.”

Fortunately, the American version consumes less distance and stamina.

I played lacrosse through high school and college and even one year in Manchester, England. I loved the sport. My performance was uneven, at least from my current perspective.

Like most team sports containing a degree of controlled violence and disciplined execution, lacrosse offered me a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie, physical conditioning and mind-numbing preparation. The desire to win was all-consuming. The sting of loss was unnerving.

Now 71-years-old, I watch modern lacrosse with great delight. I marvel at the skill level of today’s lacrosse athletes and their physical capabilities. By the latter, I must confess that 50 years ago at my university we were required only to report to practice able to run and survive a demanding game. But we spent no time in a gym training our muscles and bodies to perform better than we could have imagined. I regret that vacuum.

Back to the Army-Navy lacrosse game that past Saturday. Scoring seven goals in the second half, after being down by three at one point, the Navy midshipmen battled back to win 10-6 before a number of Army fans, including my friend, a West Point graduate. Not surprisingly, Naval Academy supporters were ecstatic.

Though I wore an Army uniform for more than 30 years as a member of U.S. Army Reserve and the Maryland Army National Guard, I am always torn when watching these two superior military academies face each other in athletic battle. The U.S. Naval Academy feels like a hometown school, generating loyalty and interest.

While pleased to watch Navy win, I had hoped to see an Army team whose record this year would have predicted a different result.

For me, the Army-Navy lacrosse contest felt like the outset of spring, a renewal of spirit at time when flowers and trees blossom and the sound of lawn mowers fill the air. On the day before Easter, it seemed appropriate to watch a game that stressed athletic excellence, self-discipline and good sportsmanship.

For me, the experience was uplifting, particularly when I could share it with my six-year-old grandson. Maybe he will continue the legacy of lacrosse played by his grandfather and mother.

As I sat in church on Sunday, buoyed by my experience as a spectator and grandfather the day before at a game that is becoming increasingly more popular throughout our country, I took solace and comfort in the resurrection of spirit represented by Easter. I think back at times that were difficult and disheartening. I feel thankful that the grace and goodness of God enabled me to face and tame personal demons and overcome health problems.

We often seek personal and spiritual renewal, sometimes more purposefully and urgently than watching a lacrosse game and remembering moments of youthful exuberance and athletic competition.

A sports stadium provides an escape from everyday worries. A church can compel honest self-examination. They both renew the soul.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Viewing Life Through a Foggy Flu Brain by Howard Freedlander

My plan was to write (again) about a wonderful trip to a guest ranch in Wickenburg, AZ, northwest of Phoenix. Then life and poor health intervened.

From Friday, March 31 through Monday, April 3, 2017, either my wife or I was bedridden with the flu. When we returned home a week ago, we found ourselves marooned in our home trying to escape a case of constant sluggishness.

This column may reflect more fogginess than usual. At least that’s my excuse, and I’m coughingly standing behind it. This flu bug is annoyingly persistent, resistant to constant bed rest and minimum exertion.

So, instead of writing about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and its marked contrast to the low-lying Eastern Shore of Maryland and the pleasant, humidity-less temperatures, I’m delving into self-absorption. Poor health changes your perspective. Not for the better.

My thoughts range back a few weeks ago to a Friday evening when walking to town for dinner. My eye trained on a line of people waiting to enter a funeral home. Most of the folks standing on the sidewalk seemed young to me. Ominously curious, I asked a middle-aged man joining the funeral group about the deceased, specifically his age. This gentleman, instinctively understanding why I was a nosey enough to ask this question, said the deceased was 29. I then asked the cause of death. He said it was a drug overdose.

As the man walked away, he said, “There are no old heroin addicts.” Poignant remark.

Just the night before this encounter, I had attended a talk by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a good man and longtime friend, addressing measures that Gov. Larry Hogan and the state legislature were debating concerning ways to control the opiate epidemic afflicting our county, state and country. In 2016, the state experienced nearly 1,000 deaths from overdose.

Lt. Gov. Rutherford, who headed a commission to study the opiate crisis, said he was concentrating significant attention on increasing awareness on the deadly impact of drug addiction. He understood that the battle would be a hard-fought one, with no guarantee of immediate success.

As readers may recall, some months ago I observed a particularly large crowd attending another funeral. The streets seemed filled with more cars than usual. A few weeks after the funeral, I asked a funeral home employee about the deceased. Was it an older, prominent member of the community? No was the answer. It was a 23-year-old man killed by a heroin overdose.

I promise you I am not simply a nosey, ghoulish neighbor who should have better things to do in his retirement than monitor attendance at the local funeral home. I am seriously concerned. We are losing young people who cannot overcome their addiction to dangerous, life-shortening drugs. Their families and friends feel the loss. As does the community.

Yesterday, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned after its 90-day session. I hope that the executive and legislative branches coalesced to produce legislation providing extensive, science-based treatment. From 2010 to 2015, fatal drug and alcohol-related overdoses experienced a 60 percent rise, while heroin deaths increased by 186 percent in Maryland.

My foggy flu brain is losing its juice (I couldn’t come up with a better word). I need to conclude this column. Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic is growing stronger and more insidious.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Call to Action is Urgent by Howard Freedlander

The Under Armour slogan, “Protect This House,” aptly characterizes the current campaign to fight the Trump Administration’s proposed cut of $73 million for continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay is the beating heart of Maryland. It requires constant attention. Keeping it alive despite relentless pollution warrants critical, if not acute care.

The bay, the largest estuary in the United States, provides measurable commercial and invaluable recreation opportunities for millions of residents in the Maryland-Pennsylvania-Virginia-Delaware region. Its upkeep is impossible without federal dollars.

It daily undergoes a stress test. In recent years, due largely to an expansive—and, yes, controversial cleanup based upon an oft-distasteful “pollution diet”—the bay has experienced a steady reduction in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that rob it of oxygen and destroy recreation and industry.

Ignoring slightly the emotional and cultural impact of a body of water that runs through the veins of those of us fortunate enough to live so closely to this generous force of nature, we residents of the Eastern Shore absolutely must fight hard to ensure that the Trump Administration’s intention to strike the $73 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget is a silly figment of a bean-counter’s mean-spirited imagination.

An argument that the state of Maryland, along with five other states and the District of Columbia in the 64,000-square-mile watershed, should shoulder the cost of improving and preserving the Bay’s fragile health ignores the federal government’s important role in forcing cooperation among independent-minded states lacking the financial means to fix a complex ecosystem.

EPA’s compulsory pollution diet, prescribed in 2010–and including the requirement of updated stormwater systems–upset local municipalities. It seemed unfair. It required local expenditures. It set deadlines. EPA understood that the Chesapeake Bay’s health could not survive on questionable and half-hearted life support. Immediate action was the cure.

While it’s true that a President’s budget document is merely a blueprint typically shunted aside by Congress, it nonetheless provides unmistakable insight into the thinking and priorities of an administration. Therefore, it cannot be ignored.
It calls for action.

I feel confident that Maryland’s congressional delegate will coalesce to oppose destruction of the embattled Chesapeake Bay. I feel confident that the argument for preservation and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay resonates in the halls of Congress, resulting in bi-partisan support of, and commitment to a future marked by abundant harvest of Blue crabs and the increasing health of long-endangered oysters. I trust my optimism is justified.

As stated in a March 22, 2017 editorial in The Washington Post, “It (Bay revival) will take a concerted political effort and public pressure to recover the funds eliminated in the administration’s proposed budget. It is critical that they succeed.”
The future of our Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay are inextricably connected. As they must be.

If we care about the bay, then we must speak up. We must “Protect This House”(substitute “Bay”), to echo the assertive Under Armour slogan.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Tubman Museum Captures Relentless Determination by Howard Freedlander

For 45 minutes I felt transfixed by a museum exhibit focused entirely on a simple, driven black woman who refused to accept the scourge of slavery as an impenetrable part of American life in the mid-19th century. Through guile and gumption, in the 1850s, she helped 70 people flee the Eastern Shore for freedom in the north.

By now, many of us have learned how “Tubman ensconced herself in the anti-slavery networks in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, where she found respect and the financial support she needed to pursue her private war against slavery on the Eastern Shore,” according to Dr. Kate Clifford Larsen, author of Bound for the Promised Land, a biography about Harriet Tubman.

In her shrewd use of Underground Railroad; this extraordinary woman used disguises; depended on reliable people who hid her; walked, rode horses and used wagons; sailed on boats and rode on trains; used certain songs to mark danger or safety; used letters written for her by others to send to trusted allies as well as personal communication; bribed people; followed rivers coursing their way north; used the stars and other natural means to lead her north and had faith in her instincts and God to support her crusade.

For me, the museum bore similarities to the much larger and more complex United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I’ll explain.

For several minutes, I sat on a bench at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek in Dorchester County. Seated with me was a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman, as I listened to people like the Civil Rights-era icon and United States Congressman, John Lewis, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and others commend Tubman. It was funny, but I kept looking at the statue, engrossed in the moment, moved by the inanimate object on the bench.

Strange emotions can overcome you, unexpectedly.

As I sat on the bench, I remembered visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum, sitting in an unadorned room and listening to the “voices of Auschwitz.” I was equally moved by the power of the moment. I didn’t expect to be so utterly engaged.

The Holocaust Museum chronicles horrendous mental and physical slavery, unprecedented depravity and enormous, senseless death. American slaves died too, often at the hands of their merciless masters, or from malnutrition. Deaths of slaves didn’t matter, except to their families.

The voices that emanated from a small video at the Tubman Visitor Center—and the beautifully designed and somber exhibits– portrayed steel-like courage—and described a person who refused to be shackled by an inhumane system prevalent in our young country. Harriet Tubman set an example with no intention to do so.

Still fixated on the nexus between the slavery that stained our freedom-loving nation and Hitler’s systematic campaign to eradicate Jews, I believe that plantations too were work camps that forcibly and cruelly employed and repressed untold numbers of African-Americans. Life on plantations stilled spirits and deterred dreams.

While plantations may not have had prison-like barbed wire fences, the barriers for escape were invisible and insidious. Those who escaped faced death and persecution. They were considered mere chattel.

Harriet Tubman had incalculable willpower. Once her days as an invaluable conductor for the Underground Railroad ended, she served as a nurse, scout, cook and spy for the Union forces during the Civil War. She even participated with 150 black Union soldiers of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the Combahee River operation to destroy several estates owned by leading secessionists and free roughly 750 people. One of the more powerful exhibits captures this dangerous mission.

Living eventually in Auburn, NY, Tubman became involved in suffrage and civil rights activism.

Often an impatient visitor to museums, I found the Tubman visitors center soul-searchingly absorbing. I highly recommend it.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Self-Righteous? You Judge by Howard Freedlander

In recent weeks, I read about the reprimand of Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County for ethical misjudgment.

Then, I read about bribery charges brought against former Delegate Michael Vaughn of Prince George’s for actions during his stint in the Maryland General Assembly.

And, of course, I constantly read about ethics concerns raised about President Trump and his business interests.

And, as a former deputy treasurer for Maryland, I recoil with disgust. I question the behavior by some to the obligations of public service. I wonder why good people do stupid things. Just human nature? I guess those two words cover a wide range of misdeeds.

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

While I certainly don’t ascribe to the frequent refrain that politicians are just crooks—in fact, the comment is patently untrue—I do understand why this conclusion may seem apt in light of disturbing headlines.

I will focus my ire at Del. Morhaim, whom I knew as a serious, conscientious legislator and one of the few medical doctors in the Maryland General Assembly. I worked with him a bit on procurement matters, which typically were remarkable for their dryness and lack of attention paid them by most legislators.

So what did Morhaim do that drew a reprimand by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics? While promoting legislation and then regulations concerning the medical use of marijuana, he signed a consulting contract with one of the vendors seeking a license to sell cannabis in Maryland. He failed to disclose his consulting contract to the very commission responsible for establishing regulations for a new statewide industry.

The ethics committee’s wording, though cumbersome, stated that “his belief that he could keep his role as a legislator, advocating for the implementation of policy and regulations for the use of medical cannabis, separate from his position as a paid consultant for a company seeking to entire the medical cannabis business, reflects poor judgment to the detriment of the broader interests of the public and other government officials who work with legislators, bringing disrepute and dishonor to the General Assembly.”

Morhaim issued a three-page apology. His defense was that while he followed the letter, he failed to follow the spirit of the law He wrote, “I did not recognize the public perception that might be associated by my speaking before the Cannabis Commission on regulatory issues, even if they were detrimental to my client’s interests. For this, I apologize.”

I find his comment lame and unsettling.

What bothers me is Del. Morhaim’s belated recognition that perception is reality, particularly in politics. The appearance of an ethical transgression or poor judgment can be just as destructive as the act itself. That’s a well-known fact.

In my opinion, the responsibility to develop and retain the public’s trust in the conduct of public business supersedes all else. You lose that trust; you lose the opportunity to be an effective public servant. You operate under a cloud. Your peers know if you are ethically flawed. Your constituents eventually discover your fallibility and choose to entrust someone else with their faith.

What bothers me also is the willingness of a public official to delegate common sense to the ethics counsel. Yes, I fully understand that the ethics office exists to counsel and advise. But it shouldn’t provide a cover for questionable behavior. I believe that responsible legislators, whether on the local or state or federal level, instinctively know or sense when an action or decision bumps up against acceptable and trustworthy behavior.

My dictum as a public servant: if in doubt, don’t.

A caveat is necessary. Citizen-legislators as we have in Maryland, as opposed to their full time contemporaries in Congress, face frequent conflicts and conundrums. As a citizen-doctor, Morhaim had pushed hard for 15 years for the medical use of marijuana. He believed in its need, as do others.

Delegate Morhaim, however, crossed the line. He besmirched his excellent reputation. He damaged his credibility.

Further, he propagated an unfair but prevalent image of public officials. Democracy suffers when the public believes the worst.

Perception is a tough, unrelenting judge.

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

Out and About (Sort of):Three Days at the Ballpark by Howard Freedlander

My bucket list diminished by one as I spent three days last week with an Oxford friend at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, FL

It was surreal as I chose to do little else but spend several hours every day watching baseball at a spanking new ballpark shared by the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. For years, I’ve often thought about being a spring training spectator.

And so I did, with great enjoyment and pure delight.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.23.15 AMThis ballpark opened on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, one day before our arrival. Surrounded by 12 practice diamonds, six for each team, the 6,500-seat main stadium is the centerpiece of a $150 million venue. I could only marvel at an impressive sports complex established to do one thing: train major- and minor leaguers to perform at the highest level possible in a first-class facility.

Sports dominate our American culture. My three-day immersion in spring training confirmed that commentary. Athleticism and entertainment draw fans galore.

We watched quality baseball played by the Miami Marlins, the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals. Despite my Baltimore roots, I’ve grown to like the Nationals, perhaps because a college friend is a principal owner.

One day we had field access before a game and watched batting practice just 10-to-15 feet away. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I watched major league ball players, including stars like Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, smack a little ball around the field and sometimes beyond.

Prior to our field visit, we toured the Nationals offices and fitness center. We were allowed to look but not walk into the locker room. I’ve never seen the off-field facilities of any professional sports team.

What I didn’t see during my three-day excursion to spring training was a relaxed atmosphere, where players would mingle with the fans. That surprised me based on stories I’ve heard over the years. What I didn’t see was idle chatter among the athletes, or even a flash of lackadaisical play.

Young players seeking scarce spots on a major league team are constantly trying to impress their coaches and managers. Veterans, looking over their shoulders at up and coming ballplayers, are trying to keep their jobs. Shoddy performance is discouraged.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 9.52.24 AM

Bryce Harper

Notwithstanding the smaller size of the building itself—though the size of the field is comparable to Major League parks–the level of the baseball play was highly professional. This would be no surprise; spring training is work for all involved. Opening Day is a month away.

I loved the experience. No longer will I wonder about spring training in sunny Florida. While the crowd had its share of retirees and vacationers, it also drew parents and children eager to enjoy the American pastime, an abundant share of team jerseys and shirts and a prevalence of good feelings.

I noticed something else. Baseball is far more relaxing than pro football; it’s a subtler, more nuanced sport that generates subdued appreciation. Embodying controlled violence, pro football elicits rawer emotions from its spectators than does baseball. Post-game reactions to these two sports are vastly different.

After more than 520 words, I have said little about the wonderful weather. For the most part, it was pleasantly warm, mostly sunny and sometimes cloudy. I almost felt like a long-term snowbird who hears about terrible weather in the north and takes pride in enjoying warm and inviting Florida.

I suspect my bucket list experience will not be one and done. I just may watch the Orioles play next winter in Sarasota, FL–to be true to my roots.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Squirrels Redux by Howard Freedlander

Sometimes in this business of writing weekly columns you’re surprised by reactions, or even the lack of them. Your writing sticks out there in cyberspace, in this case, as fair game for engagement or inattention.

After last week’s column about mischievous squirrels in my Easton neighborhood, I was amazed by the response. A neighbor emailed me with his story, which his wife later amplified. Then, my British friend, who subscribes to The Talbot Spy, wrote me twice about his rodent story.

I’ve learned since the summer of 2014 that columns related to politics and animals draw the most comments, either online or by personal email. Even a phone call once and awhile. Because everyone seems to run across a squirrel or vice versa, these omnipresent animals have created a persona of their own—with stories by frustrated humans in large supply.

So, worthy readers, I feel compelled to bring forward two more stories, one belonging to Homeowner #9, and the other to a gentleman in Dorset, England.

Tara’s public enemy no. one hard at work in Dorset, England

Tara’s public enemy no. one hard at work in Dorset, England

Homeowner #9: This (the column) just reminded me of an incident from about 8 or 9 years ago. Our daughter (perhaps 3 or 4 at the time) was sitting on our living room sofa, facing the fireplace. All day long my wife had heard noises in our chimney. Having long experience with starlings falling down chimneys and coming into buildings, I coached my wife (from my safe distance at work) to put a blanket over the fireplace screen so that when the bird reached the bottom, it would not see daylight, and perhaps would rest for a moment, making it easier to capture and return to the great outdoors. If a bird is still, you can throw a blanket or towel over it, scoop it up, and carry it to the door. Again, I have repeated experience with this from a building with an uncapped chimney where my office was formerly located.

Our toddler daughter walked out to the kitchen, found her mama, and said, rather matter-of-factly,”a little face was peeking out of the fireplace.” My wife came running back, but too late. The squirrel–not a bird–had pushed past the fireplace screen and was on the loose inside the house. The volume of my wife reaction, in retrospect, may have further heightened the furry rodent’s sense of panic in these unfamiliar environs. But she (my wife)) had the presence of mind to close as many interior doors as possible, then propped the front door open. Our tree-dwelling neighbor soon found his (her? My wife didn’t have the opportunity to ascertain) way back into its customary environment.

We have a new chimney cap that, so far, has prevented recurrences of such uninvited visits.

Wife’s turn:

I feel the need to fill in a few more details that my husband didn’t include, since when the incident below took place, he was happily participating in a local meeting…

The incident was actually about 6 years ago, and my daughter (6 at the time) was sitting in the living room reading a book to her little brother (1 and a half). We also had a brand-new-to-us 2-year-old cat in the house.

I sequestered the cat, and my children into the kitchen and stood on the steps, wildly waving my hands to show the squirrel that the front door was open. However, before the squirrel noticed the front door was open, he/she could see shrubs through the glass panes on the top half of our side screen porch door, and in a move somewhat akin to that of the squirrel in the Christmas Tree in “National Lampoons Christmas Vacation,” leapt over and across the dining room table only to splat against the glass. Undeterred, it did a 180-degree turn and ran back towards the living room, but thankfully ran out the front door instead. Slamming the front door shut, I breathed, then found my phone and sent my husband one text message: “It was NOT a bird. It was a SQUIRREL.”

Even my son, who was relatively young, remembers the incident.

My Dorset, England friend: We were amused by your article about squirrels in the Talbot Spy on Tuesday. We are at war with a pesky grey rodent who has been baiting Tara (their dog) by running along the electricity cable suspended above our garden & has now descended to ground level to feast itself on our supposedly squirrel-proof bird feeder.

The squirrel has a head start & has so far outrun Tara to escape up the apple tree, but it is only a matter of time before she makes contact & the rodent loses its tail as did Squirrel Nutkin in Beatrix Potter’s book of the same name.

For the benefit of your readers, perhaps you should mention that Tara is a Jack Russell (I believe that her female counterpart in the US is known as a Jane Russell). She is also known as Tara Longbody as she has a long body & short legs & is built for comfort – not for speed. My wife is going to apply grease to the pole we use to hang the bird food containers – something to do with discouraging squirrels from climbing the greasy pole of life. Much to our irritation, our athletic rodent has this morning been joined by a chum, so word is getting round the squirrel community in Milton on Stour that there are free lunches available chez nous.

As a rather benign columnist, I deliberately have avoided using names. It’s just the custom I have followed, unless I specifically have sought permission to identify my sources.

The squirrels don’t care about their victims’ names or personal histories. They are indiscriminate in their mischief-making.

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

Editor’s Note: For another look at squirrel battles, please go here

Out and About (Sort of): Hostile Takeover by Squirrels by Howard Freedlander

For years I would hear stories about the annoying damage done by deer to crops and gardens throughout Talbot County. I would listen and then gloat to myself that no such thing could happen in Easton.

While I may be right, we have other destructive animals. Squirrels have asserted themselves in my neighborhood, as I learned during a hearty email exchange among my neighbors. The chatter amused me, but then my life has been unafflicted similarly by the ever-present rodents.

As a local columnist, I was intensely interested in this riveting neighborhood news. I couldn’t ignore it, though it was far from earthshaking, albeit obviously irritating to those feeling the effect of the squirrels’ attack. Our neighborhood was under siege—or so it seemed from the animated email thread.

In deference to my neighbors, I will not identify them by name. Instead, I will refer to them in the innocuous fashion of Homeowner #1, etc. They deserve their privacy in the face of non-discriminating rodents that roam our wonderful neighborhood, unafraid of public censure.

Let’s begin on this exciting journey of in-town inconvenience:

Homeowner #1: Dear friends and neighbors,

I took my car to Hertrich yesterday since a red light warned me that my air bag was malfunctioning. The mechanic showed me that rodents (probably squirrels) had chewed through wiring, which made it seem like there was a malfunction. They also had chewed on covering inside of hood. The mechanic suggested that I put mothballs in recesses of the engine, which I have done. I purchased the kind that come in little packets. It was an expensive lesson- $300 +.
Free moth ball placement lessons upon request!

Homeowner #2 Thanks a lot. Interesting information. However, now, the squirrels will be after our cars. They’ve already eaten through two of our propane hoses to our grill.

Homeowner #3: They chew up our plastic watering cans and hose handles too! And, eat my tomatoes. I have a BB gun, but can’t use it very well, and besides, it would only add a little excitement to the squirrels’ lives, not deter them from their evil activities.

Homeowner #4: I gave up on growing tomatoes. They picked the vines clean.

Homeowner #5: Yikes! I would happily participate in a moth ball placement seminar. They chewed on our phone lines. The one year we grew tomatoes, they would eat half, leave the other half on our mailbox, and would then laugh at us….

Homeowner #6: All I know is that every October when they sit on our finely carved Halloween jack-o-lanterns snacking freely, they are looking me directly in the eye and mocking my very existence. Curse you, squirrels!

Homeowner #7: Hi neighbors, It seems we all have something in common! SQUIRRELS! I actually have quite a few stories similar to what have already been shared … including wires severed, tomato plants being carried away right before my eyes, and the like. But I’ll share the story when a few years back a squirrel/squirrels managed to eat a hole right into the front roof closed-off space above my porch. They were pretty sneaky and quiet at first … then as “love” hit the air, the noisy and wild chasing began. Or maybe I have it wrong, and the screeching, romping and carrying on was fighting for territorial rights. All I knew was it had to STOP! And I needed to fix/shut that little squirrel door! So a live trap was arranged with an open face peanut butter sandwich each day for 13 days … 13 squirrels were carefully caught and given a home far, far away :~)

Homeowner #8: We have had a horrible time with those darn squirrels. There is a picture up at Easton ford because they found the largest squirrel nest they have ever seen. It was under the hood of my car behind the headlight. We drove all the way to Hilton Head with a family of stowaway squirrels. They had pulled old paint rags, twigs, leaves, and newspaper into the engine of my car. Who knew squirrels like to read the newspaper.? Anyway I feel for you ours was also an expensive repair. They are such a nuisance!

Well, folks, you can’t make up these stories, as the saying goes. While we should be happy that deer don’t roam the streets of Easton, squirrels more than punch their weight. My neighbors’ comments can vouch for that.

After reading these squirrelly tales, I suspect my attitude will change toward these ubiquitous rodents. I simply won’t trust them again.

As one neighbor wrote, “They are looking me directly in the eye and mocking my very existence.” Good-humored hyperbole? Maybe not.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Togetherness amid Tragedy by Howard Freedlander

On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, I escaped the pre-game hoopla for a memorial service at American Legion Post #70 in Easton to pay homage to the “Four Chaplains” who died as the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sunk in the frigid North Atlantic waters off the coast of Greenland.

The story about the Four Chaplains, though well known, poignantly underscores cherished values of faith, unity, courage and selflessness. Little wonder that this touching tale continues to resonate.

Carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers, the 5,649-ton vessel, once a luxury coast liner converted into an Army transport ship, the Dorchester was steaming from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland. Officers knew that German U-boats were a constant threat; several ships had already been struck and sunk by German torpedoes.

And so that too was the Dorchester’s unfortunate fate.

Hit about 1 a.m. on the starboard side, amid ship, far below the waterline, this packed transport ship took on water, rapidly sinking in less than 20 minutes. The icy seas became a grave for 672 men in the wee hours of Feb. 3, 1943.

Panic consumed the ship as men jumped from the ship into rafts, some capsizing due to overcrowding. Death was a stark reality.

Lt. George L, Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed) became heroes by offering prayers, a sense of calm and help for those seeking the safety of lifeboats. They distributed life jackets to men trying to escape a doomed ship.

At this point, the chaplains did something remarkable: they removed their own life jackets and gave them to the men. Then, as the ship went down, the four chaplains linked arms, according to survivors, and offered prayers

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 7.52.56 AMA prayer read in the stillness of the American Legion spoke beautifully about the “unity that transcends all our differences and makes us one in loyalty to our country and our fellow men and to you, our God…may we remain faithful to the spirit of our Four Chaplains who, having learned to live and serve together, in death were not divided.”

This story has many overriding themes, all tied to the best in us. Crises have a way of doing that. Tragedy begets goodness, in most instances.

The four chaplains cared nothing about the religious preferences of the men whom they helped. Differences in liturgy and faith were irrelevant. What did matter to them were their faith in God; their lives belonged to a higher power, one that superseded the calamities and tragedies imposed by war.

Their arms linked in unity on a rapidly sinking ship, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Father Washington and Reverend Poling exemplified ultimate selflessness and uncommon courage amid chaos and certain death. They remained loyal to each other—and their devotion to the desperate men fighting for their lives on a dark, freezing night.

As the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sank, these four young clergymen raised themselves in the eyes and hearts of the survivors who watched in disbelief and admiration from their lifeboats.

Were this a thankfully short sermon, instead of a weekly column, I would tie the overarching themes of sacrifice, faith, unity and courage to our everyday lives. I would stand on my imaginary soapbox and plead for the application of these enduring values to our body politic.

But I won’t. It’s not necessary. It would seem preachy, maybe even a bit pompous.

The “Four Chaplains” story stands on its own human and spiritual foundation. Its lessons are clear to any of us who believe that goodness and grace mark our lives. In a communal tragedy—such as 9/11—we pull together and amass our collective strength and empathy, at least briefly.

As organized mayhem and tasty nachos awaited me, during our national paean to sports and physical dominance called the Super Bowl, I took a welcome, early afternoon respite to pay tribute to four men who died 74 years ago in the icy North
Atlantic waters during World War II. They were heroes of the highest order.

Their story is a powerful one. Their story touches your soul.

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