Crab culture celebrated in Easton revue

ON THE BAY

Extravaganza: Avalon Theatre will pay homage Nov. 8 to crustaceans and those who delight in their harvest.

October 24, 2003|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

SURELY, MANY readers must have wondered what Elvis Presley would have sung if he had been a Maryland crabber, poaching just over the state line:

Wella blessa my soul

What do I see

Virginia police boats comin' after me

I pull my crab scrapes

Right outa the mud - I'm a wreck - I'm all shook up!"

Then there's Sonny and Cher's hit single, "We Got Crabs, Babe," and the old Willie Nelson-Julio Iglesias favorite, "To All the Crabs I've Caught Before."

When I lived in the great Chesapeake crabbing center of Smith Island, the songs and stories flowed all summer from the watermen's wives, "picking" in their little shanties, transforming bushels of hard-edged crustaceans into succulent heaps of backfin.

Theirs was an honest poetry, born of work and acceptance. "Look, this is not the most glamorous job in the world - whenever a tourist sees me lookin' like some old workhorse, I hate it," one picker said. "But it's where we are and it's what we do."

Often, I'd ask older women whether they considered their lives happy. They had been "content" or "satisfied," they would answer.

For all we write about crabs as the stuff of crab cakes and commerce, and as an ecological indicator, we too seldom pause to simply celebrate them - both the creature and the human cultures grown up around their harvest.

That's going to remedied for one magical evening, Saturday, Nov. 8, at the Avalon Theatre in downtown Easton, when bay singer, storyteller and poet Tom Wisner presents a one-time-only extravaganza known as "Crab Soup."

The show will feature - for the first time ever on stage - Smith Island picker Janice Marshall and accomplices, dismantling mounds of freshly steamed crabs and re-creating the atmosphere of an old-time bay crab shanty.

An assortment of first-rate bay musicians and storytellers will perform original works, from Bill Brennan and Paul Seydewitz's "Crab Jubilee" to Tom Vincent's "Blue Crab Blues," and one of my favorites, Wisner's "Dance Sideways:"

I wonder if some people

Ever wonder what its like,

To be put into a kettle,

And have the lid shut tight?

Wander in the darkness

You can't find your way around,

You are destined to become

The tastiest treat in town

Poems include Lucille Clifton's "Crabbing," Gilbert Byron's "Crab Talk" and Steven Ward's wonderful "Soft Crab Time in Crisfield."

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $20. Call the Avalon at 410-820-8822, or try Ticket Master.

Driving the speed limit saves gas - and the bay

Friends, it's the secret Detroit and Big Oil don't want you to know - how to increase OVERNIGHT the gas mileage your car gets, be it Honda or Hummer. And it's FREE! You read it here first.

It's called the SPEED LIMIT. Try driving it for a month at ABSOLUTELY NO CHARGE. Just see if it doesn't save you 5, 10, EVEN 20 PER CENT on gas.

Every gallon less that's burned helps clean up Chesapeake Bay, because at least 15 per cent of all nitrogen - the bay's biggest pollutant - comes from vehicle exhausts.

Until this year, I drove like most Marylanders, 10 to 12 mph over the limit, about what the police allow you before issuing a ticket. Then I bought a car with a dashboard computer that displays your miles per gallon and averages it during your trip.

I had also been catching flak from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's John Page Williams, a veteran speed-limit observer.

Williams uses a boat frequently, and needs a sport utility vehicle to tow it. To compensate, he has lowered his speed, a move he is the first to admit is "radical."

My car's EPA-estimated highway mileage is 26 miles per gallon. Before my change of pace, I did 22 to 24 mpg, never better.

Now I set the cruise control around 54 to 57 in 55-mph zones, and from 60 to 64 in 65-mph zones. I never get less than 26 miles per gallon, and most often do 28 to 29. My record is 30.5.

And my driving times haven't increased by nearly the same percentage as my gas mileage.

If it sounds obsessive, that mpg display does command one's interest. Environmental author Bill McKibben, who has one, concluded in Utne Reader Magazine's July-August issue:

"It proves measurement changes behavior, one of those maxims dear to dieters, stock analysts and advocates of standardized tests for school children."

I agree with him that since Congress is too gutless to require higher fuel-efficiency standards, maybe we could ask that every new car have a mpg gauge.

While we wait - and wait and wait - for the Bush administration to clean up the air, we can take meaningful action now, starting with our accelerator.

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