Friday, August 22, 2014


“I’m mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea’s ass at 200 meters. So why don’t you go hump somebody else’s leg, mutt face, before I push yours in.” Clint Eastwood, from the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”

Now I am not one to retreat from terror. I will not give up my ridge. So with a little time passing from this near death encounter, I continued with my running and strolls but approached the ridge with caution. I would always creep up and peer around the corner to see if Remington was out. I always made sure to arm myself with a pointy limb from a fallen branch nearby in case he should attack. If the coast was clear, I would pass his house walking backwards, limb in hand, watching my back on the defense.

Occasionally his master would be outside and I would kindly ask her to put him inside while I passed her home. I thought I had the situation under control. And then one day there was an act of war.

It was a steamy, humid afternoon in August. I made my way to the ridge and peeked to see if my foe was out. Indeed he was. I hollered for his master to bring him in but received no response. With my habitual limb in hand, I stood for a few moments contemplating my next move. My husband, an Army Ranger, gave me a few pointers on how to protect myself should I encounter such a precarious situation: arm out, ready to knee the aggressor. I thought about this for a few seconds and decided I liked my arm and I’m not a Ranger.

Using my best judgment, I decided to pick another road to run on that fine day. Just as I turned away from the tip of the ridge, Remington spotted me from behind the bushes. Our eyes met and I knew we were in a stand-off. I stood for a moment and started to wave my arms wildly at him. I considered the arm, knee defense, but in that split second I knew my only chance at survival was to run.

I darted towards Purnell Road, the arm leading to Route 1, where cars dictate the speed limit at 60 mph. I had no time to “stop, look, and listen.” I only hoped no cars were passing. My visor flew off my head, my iPod fell from my pocket, my water bottle rolled to the ground. My heart pounding and out of breath, I ran screaming. Across the road lay a ditch four feet wide and five feet deep. I leapt over it, landed, stumbled, almost falling to the ground. I managed to hold on and keep running. All along Remington was on my tail. He knew no boundaries. He chased me onto another property and I could feel his breath at my heels. “This was it,” I thought, “I’m going down.”

And then, by some good grace, he turned and went home.

Shaken and in utter disbelief that this beast hunted me as he did, the woman who’s home I landed on, came out to see if I was OK. She brought me inside and I recounted the story. She told me she fears for her life and that of her dogs, that the dog is vicious and it’s just a matter of time before there’s bloodshed.

I called the dog catcher. This dog had to be stopped. After an investigation, the dog catcher informed me that “it appearz zat youw paperz are noot in orda.” Since I had not reported prior attacks, the dog catcher could only issue a warning to the owners.

After I alerted the neighborhood to this terrorist, I began to hear stories similar to mine. One even included a confession by the master that she feared her son’s dog was not safe.

My fight is not over. I will not give up the ridge. Question is, what should be my next approach? Do I go on the offense, lure him into an attack, report his serial offenses and let justice prevail? Too dangerous and risky. How will time play out this tale? Will Remington turn on his own? Will someone else fall victim to his prey? These are questions of which I have no answer. But I do know this, Remington is a terrorist. He is not a militant dog or a radical pet. I can’t ignore his presence, I tried being his friend. He is terrorizing the street of Purnell Ridge and he knows no boundaries.

Someday peace will be at hand, and I will run on Purnell Ridge again. Dogs only live to be so old. For now though I retreat. That paved road across the street will do just fine.


“People who keep dogs are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves” August Strindberg

There is a time warp of a road around the corner from where I live. With asphalt and black top paving most of the planet, I have found a respite from modern society. This little gem, practically in my backyard, is called Purnell Ridge.

Purnell Ridge is a vein of a country road where few remain. Traveling deep down Purnell Road, an arm that leads to Capital Boulevard, or more commonly known up and down the east coast as Route 1, one may stumble upon a few of these back country roads. With such names as “Shoe Fly,” “Black Horse,” or my favorite, “Lightning Bug Lane,” they are spots paused in time, untouched and amputated from the reaches of Big Brother. I would caution traveling down some of these roads as “no trespassing” signs and shot guns are partners in preserving such tranquility. However, Purnell Ridge is a little more welcoming, with county zoning of five acres per lot. Civilization is more prevalent on the Ridge, thus certain considerations and expectations apply. With such precedence as no kill zones and shot guns need not apply, trespassing along the road is permitted.

I love visiting Purnell Ridge. A leisurely stroll on a crisp, fall day down the unpaved, sandy colored road, where rain fall carves divots and ruts makes traveling a character trace. Foliage of hundreds of year old trees shade the pathway, and creeks runneth alongside while the sounds of birds, frogs and insects harken melodies to the base of running water.

The seclusion of the road is peaceful, full of solace, and cleansing in nature. Surrounded by lake and woods, there are a few cautions requiring mindfulness. Random copperhead or cotton mouth snake indigenous to the area make rare appearances. Legends told of an existence of bears or coyotes scavenging the woods, though I have yet to site any. Some even claim bob cat lurk in the shadows. But the biggest treat is tiny Toto, the dog, who barrels from his home, barking at your feet, only to roll over for a belly rub.

I love running the Ridge. A mile round trip, hilly and winding, always adds interest to a challenging run. I used Purnell Ridge to add mileage when training for my sole marathon. While not a resident of Purnell Ridge, my home overlooks the woods of this beloved trail and I feel a special kinship developed and nurtured over ten years of my visiting this unique spot. That is until recently.

Seems a rather vicious beast has moved into the neighborhood. Situated at the entrance of Purnell Ridge, he has become the gate keeper. His name is Remington and I don’t like him very much.

One fine day I ran down Purnell Ridge, then I ran up. On my way back up the ridge I was abruptly stopped by a large and juvenile German Shepard that, unlike Toto’s friendly greetings, came charging with loud barks, growls and fangs. I sized him up at about a buck twenty. His hair raised along the spine, ears stretching to the trees, I was more than startled; I froze in a panic.

Thankfully this beast was just out for a stroll with his lady master who quickly called him back before he attacked – me. I am acquaintances with this woman and we chatted as I inquired about her new family pet.

She explained that her good for nothing, slacker, late blooming, leech of a son brought him home. But really the dog is quite friendly.

 I asked of this fine pet’s name. She replied, “Remington, after the gun.”

“Oh, how cute,” I responded and then reached my out my hand as a peacemaking gesture of diplomacy.

You could feel the tension in the air as she quickly shouted, “Don’t. I wouldn’t pet him.” In coincidence with her plea, Remington, the friendly dog, started growling at me, about to pounce. She called him back. I laughed a little nervously and politely said I’d be on my way and that it was nice talking with her.

Time had passed and I had forgotten about Remington. I ran the Ridge with no disturbances other than a welcoming hello from Toto. That is until one day after a run down the Ridge, making my way back up, I encountered Remington. I was just about to pass his territory when I heard him bark. I made sure I steered clear of his boundaries and headed to the far side of the road. But that was not far enough.

Remington is a cruel and evil beast. He was bred to attack and terrorize those not in his pack. He knows no other purpose. I doubt rehabilitation would work with Remington. Could I picture Cesar Milan, “The Dog Whisperer,” finding out what makes him tick?

Cesar’s assessment of Remington would go something like this: “This dog was raised by an overindulged, entitled master. Watch what happens when I rub behind his ears.” As Cesar reaches to stroke Remington, Cesar interprets the dog’s speech.

“What did he say Cesar?” asks the audience.

Cesar responds with a look of fear in his eyes, “He says ‘I vill keel you! RUN!!!!”

Run I did as Remington came charging at me. I did not know what to do! I know you are not supposed to run from dogs or they will run after you but I tried to stand my ground. I waved my arms and started growling back at him with no retreat from Remington. He was getting closer. So I started screaming at the top of my lungs, and ran as fast as I could but he gained so much speed, he was on my tail. And then, just as his snout grazed my ankle, ready to bring me down, my pleas for help were heard, and his owner called him back.

Trembling with fear, shock and awe, tears streaming from my cheeks, I headed home lucky to be alive.

I am not one to retreat from terror. I will not give up my ridge. This is war!

Story to be continued...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Feeling Crabby

“We got so much food in America we’re allergic to food. Allergic to food! Hungry people ain’t allergic to shit. You think anyone in Rwanda’s got a f-ing lactose intolerance?!” Chris Rock

 Ask me of my favorite food and my immediate answer is seafood. Oh how I love sweets, but I’ll take a succulent meal of shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster, scallops, and my absolute favorite, crab any day. Growing up along the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as I did, fosters seafood in one’s blood. Problem is I recently developed an allergy to my favorite food, more specifically shellfish. So far the reaction has not reached anaphylactic proportions, so until it does I will keep testing the limit of this allergy.

Last week I ate a little too much shellfish; the effects of my debauchery followed me days later as a reminder of this allergy I always conveniently forget. I made shrimp jambalaya from scratch from a recipe my New Orleans neighbors perfected. Filled with locally raised Andouille sausage, shredded rotisserie free range chicken, delicately sautéed peppers, onions, and sweet garlic left to braise in a broth of tomatoes and Cajun spices, with cilantro as a special twist, and the grande cerise sur le gateau, le grande finale: shrimp! The dish is tres irresistible!

My shrimp jambalaya was so good, so, so, so good I ate leftovers several days in a row for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Toward the end of the week I began to feel crappy and itchy. I attributed my foul discomfort to a tick that latched itself to an unmentionable part of my being earlier that day.

Ticks, coincidentally, fall into the same crustacean category as spiders and shellfish, however ticks are not on my menu. They are nasty, parasitic, disease carrying scourges of the planet. Seems the tick had me for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As a self-proclaimed hypochondriac I became symptomatic of every tick borne illness I could google. But none of the sites gave all over body itch as a symptom.

My itchiness began to turn welt like and hives appeared from head to toe. I was not pleasant to be around. I hollered at the kids, complained to my husband, growled at the dogs. I was in a real crabby mood. And then it hit me like a tsunami sized salt water wave: It’s the Jambalaya!

“Yes, that’s right,” I suddenly remembered, “I am allergic to shrimp. Silly me for forgetting!” Since my shellfish allergy has yet to reach the stage of throat closure, I do not feel terribly threatened, figuring a little shellfish every now and again is manageable. Treating myself with a couple of Benadryl, a dazed and confused sleep, the next day I was good as new.

A couple of days later I attended a crab fest. I do love me some crabs! Thus I took advantage of the all you can eat format and ate all I could eat crabs. The next day my allergy returned, this time with a little more of a vengeance. My throat began to tickle, my lips began to puff, and hives formed in all sorts of shapes all over my body. I realized I had pushed the limit with this allergy and needed a momentary change in diet and a more powerful antihistamine.

Today I am still feeling a little crabby and crappy; A little itch here, a little itch there. This too shall pass. Allergy or no allergy I will not be deterred from eating my favorite food: shellfish! I will continue on an antihistamine and take a couple weeks off. Hopefully by Labor Day weekend I’ll be back in the game for our annual blue crab fest, once again testing the limits of this most detestable, cruel allergy!

Why, oh why, would I put myself through such torture, such life threatening risk? I could think about that now but I’ll think about it tomorrow. Giving up something you love is never easy. When something is in your blood the task is near impossible. Crabs are the only thing that matter. Never will I give up shellfish! As blogging is my witness, I will persevere in even the worst of reactions until my dying day. I will endure the pain, the hives, the discomfort, the inconvenience. It’s the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’, as long as I shall live, as long as it doesn’t kill me, and I will never go hungry again.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's a Moby!

“A crab provides little food, so he is not easy to eat. But the little he does offer is the best food under the sky. To eat crab you must work, which makes you appreciate him more. He is the blessing, the remembrance. And no man or woman ever ate enough.” James A. Michener’s Chesapeake
James Michener’s excerpt captures the essence of what I think of as one of the finest foods placed upon this planet: blue crabs. With a most gorgeous hue of blue that turns to fiery red, these creatures provide the most succulent, sweetest, unique and delicate flavor to the palate. They also provide a haven, a coming together of souls, causing time to pause and allowing for reflection of the blessings, as Michener writes, that are bestowed upon us.

Growing up in New Jersey I am a Jersey girl by birth where blue crabs do scavenge the floors of the Atlantic. A good portion of my life, however, was spent visiting my grandparents along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Here is where salt water and all the fine creatures that inhabit these waters cultivated my eternal love for crabs and the art of eating them. I grew up on Trippe Creek; heaven on earth if ever there was.

If I were a wet rag you could squeeze me and out would fall droplets of Old Bay. Crabs and the murky waters of the Chesapeake are forever in my blood. August is the best time to harvest this crustacean. Of course you could crab all summer long, but any local would inform you that August is the best month along the Eastern Shore and Labor Day is the grand finale of the season.

We often visited my grandparents throughout the year, each season a unique and treasured experience. Traveling down Harleigh Lane, we turned towards their red brick Cape Cod style house facing west, with near panoramic views of Trippe Creek. During summertime, all of us cousins, aunts and uncles would spend a good portion of our time and energy crabbing. We used crab traps strung along the dock from the pilings. The trap was about a 2 foot x 2 foot metal netted cube with cylinder shaped nets in the center where the bait would rest.

Back in the day we used cut up eel as bait. It was smelly and stinky. Left to soak in the salty waters, the decomposing gray flesh of the eel faded to an almost white, with bone and mangled flesh eking out from the sides. The crabs really gravitated towards the eel, but as eel became more of a delicacy, and scarcer to find, eel was quickly replaced by chicken necks. Not as traditional but seemingly effective and just as stinky and nasty to the senses. I could argue the efficacy of eel vs. chicken necks countered with the decline in the blue crab population, but that is for another diction. Eel was better though…anyway.

Throughout the day my brothers, cousins and I would make many trips down to the dock.  “Look out for the loose board at the top of the dock. Make sure you wear shoes or you’ll get splinters. No going on the dock unless you wear your life jacket!” were some of the orders barked by our parents. We would shimmy the trap to the deck of the dock and count the crabs. We would pick out the keepers and release the babies to grow for next year.

Around mid-afternoon with an adult or two to supervise, we would hop aboard the little outboard, lovingly named the Crab Alley after my cousin Alison, who incidentally is not crabby at all. Using a trot line we would motor up and down Trippe Creek, each taking turns catching the assembly line of crabs.

Using a rope about 100 or so yards long, anchored by floaters (usually empty plastic milk bottles), weighted down to the creek floor by anchors, the trot line is basically an assembly line of bait spread about every couple of feet.

Slowing approaching the first buoy, a net (with metal netting so as not to tangle the crabs), is carefully dipped into the water, under the rope, then lifted and strategically placed on a roller. As the outboard creeps along, the roller moves the rope and bait. We were extremely silent during this phase so as not to scare off the crabs. With net discreetly in position, just barely under the water, a slight and steady hand would scoop the feeding crab into a rubber bucket filled with an inch or two of water.

When one of us missed our opportunity to net the crab silence would be broken as the rest of us would holler at the netter, “How could you miss that! Oh you blew it! Oh well it was too small anyway. That was the biggest crab of the day!” But with another crab waiting, we quickly enacted the "no speak zone" and silence resumed.

Sometimes one of us would net the crab but miss the bucket allowing a crab to escape and scurry free on the little Crab Ally. Such an event sent all toes on board mid-air. With benches on board that were hollowed underneath, the deceptive crab ran for cover. The net served not only to catch the crab but also to nudge and lure it into captivity. Toes safe with the rogue crab captured and resting in the bucket we went back to the business of crabbing.

Oh the excitement and adventure of catching crabs! The pinnacle of the catch, when we knew our day was done and nothing could top our work, was when someone hollered a phrase coined by my cousin David. In reference to the giant fish named Moby Dick by Herman Melville, we knew this crab could not be topped. To be such a large crab, so old and wise, experienced to the prowess of the trot line, yet so engrossed in its feeding, you could hear a pin drop, steady was everyone on deck, and then SNATCH! Echoing all over the creek could be heard, “It’s a Moby!”

With the harvest of the day coming to an end we would hand over our catch to our grandmother Gammie who would steam the crabs in a big, black pot speckled with white, reserved especially for crabs. Gammie, a Baltimore native, raised Quaker during the Depression era, saw her share of death and misery. As a result she was cold to the business of steaming crabs. She would pile in Old Bay and a can of beer. Outboards weren’t the only place a crab went rogue. Kitchen counters and floors gave one or two a glimpse of hope at escape but good ole’ Gammie quickly threw the crabby into her pot.

Every now and then there was a crab that fell through the cracks, not quite meeting keeper requirements. As she tonged the crab into the pot, she’d pick up the baby crab, pause for a moment then say, “Well babies die all the time” and in plopped the crab.

With the screen porch overlooking the creek as the venue, long tables covered in newspaper were set with instruments for cracking: wooden hammers, metal crackers, and knives made especially for digging out vestiges of crab meat. The chefs at the grill brought in barbeque chicken breasts, local Maryland corn and sliced tomatoes as the rest of us anxiously awaiting the tray full of crabs.

Inevitably there were a few squabbles placing claim over who caught what crab, but nobody argued with the catcher of the Moby! Moby was theirs to covet. A big chunk of meat would warrant the champion crabber to dangle their prize in front of whomever was sitting next to them, and while unappreciated, perfectly fair game.

With our family huddled on the porch, the sun setting over Trippe Creek, the scent of salt water wafting through the screen, the sounds of the end of the day settling in, we sat diligently picking crabs. Knowing another summer had come to an end, and that the next time we would all gather would be Thanksgiving, we cherished our time, our moment, and the remembrance of such a blessing.