Save state wildlands, strip-mine your brain


January 24, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

I call it strip-mining the brain. It's the spiritual exercise of stripping away the thick, ugly layers of modern life that keep us isolated from the natural world. It takes a great deal of effort, more than ever. It often requires travel. It means digging through the concrete crust of urban-suburban living, and breaking through all the other man-made clutter, until you reach the vestige of a wild place.

It's a human necessity.

How many times can you look at the Beltway, that asphalt river around Baltimore, without looking into a real stream? How many times can you look at a horizon full of town homes without looking for a horizon full of pines? How many times can you hear the roar of 18-wheelers and the yack-screech of TV commercials without listening for the song of a wren and the dirge of ocean surf?

If you indulge in strip-mining the brain, if you search long and hard for the solitude only nature provides, you have to support the effort to declare as "wildlands" another 22,790 acres of Maryland, making them off limits to logging trucks and mining equipment, even cars.

Unfortunately, this isn't private land being acquired by the state and locked up for our kids. It's already public land, in state forests and parks, proposed for greater protection. Still, the idea that 22,000 more acres of land will be free from mechanical intrusions should please progressive Marylanders no end. Coaxed by the Maryland Wildlands Committee, the Glendening administration wants to expand the size of our solitude. And these days, with townhouses sprouting as fast as ferns, every inch of protected space counts.

One winter ago, I hiked in Savage River State Forest, following the run of a mountain brook down through a grove of ice-encrusted evergreens. Occasionally, I could hear the echo of a truck along New Germany Road, or the hum of a small plane. But what soon filled my ears, blocking the last audible trace of anything man-made, was the brook. It cascaded, silver and black, over ice-capped rocks and crackled against the crusty snow of its banks. I didn't want to leave. I remember thinking, as my companions and I hiked through the snow, that we were the first men ever to explore that place.

That was fantasy, of course. There's no real wilderness in Maryland anymore. Everything has been touched. At one time in this century, there was hardly a tree left standing in Garrett County. Since then, great swaths of arboreal mountainside have grown back and been cut. Across Maryland, the state manages about 140,000 acres of forest, with some large pieces, especially in the western mountains, affected by harvesting every year.

So the wildlands proposal, if approved by the General Assembly, means the logging companies will have to get by with a little less. Fine. There's plenty of private land on which to cut trees anyway. Leave the public lands for those of us who, more than ever, need to strip away the modern world and find peace in nature -- or at least know it's there.

End of Golden Ring Harry?

Remember Golden Ring Harry? He was the con artist who hit on people for small "loans" to fix a flat, then told them to come by Big Al's Pit Beef on Pulaski Highway to be repaid. Dozens of the duped went to Big Al's looking, unsuccessfully, for Harry and their money. Good news (maybe): Harry has either given it a rest or moved on. Mike DiCarlo, who owns Big Al's, says the number of people looking for Harry fell off dramatically after the story appeared in the Jan. 5 TJI. I doubt we've heard the end of this guy.

Singing big

Let's give it up for Sgt. Major Lance Sweigart, U.S. Army Field Band, Fort George G. Meade, who sang the National Anthem without microphone before approximately 6,200 men, women and children Sunday evening at the Arena. Sweigart stood in a spotlight on a carpet on the ice before the Bandits-Pirates game, raised the mike and started singing. The P.A. never worked. But, without skipping a note, the sergeant major bravely sang big enough to be heard in the cheapest seats. (And aside from the one heckler, who shut up after a few seconds, the house was silent.) Where do we find such men?

Rising to the occasion

TJI reader Shana Seidenman of Pikesville says I'm all wet about not using old yeast in fresh bread. (During my baking in Snow Week, I discovered that using yeast six years expired gives you . . . well, matzo.) But Shana says I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss yeast that's past its prime.

She made a "small but passable loaf" from 6-year-old yeast right after the blizzard. And, when her snowed-in family craved pizza, she scoured the house for something to use for crust. "In my old refrigerator in the basement," she says, "I found a packet of yeast marked, 'Best if used by May 1983.' Not deterred, I gave it a try. Sure enough, after a while, the dough began to swell and, voila!, pizza crust was born. Please be more careful before you malign old yeast."

Thanks, Shana, and awright already!

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