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fishing by the full moon

Looking over the possible names for this month’s Full Moon (occurring Sunday, August 10th in 2014), this year I chose the Full Sturgeon Moon. It is not the most Romantic of Full Moon names, but is one that was used by some Native American tribes, particularly the Algonquin, who noted that this fish in the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain were most readily caught during this Full Moon.

Here in Paradelle, the sturgeon is an endangered species. It is not a fish you will find on menus. The sturgeon family is among the most primitive of the bony fishes.

The shortnose sturgeon has a body that contains five rows of bony plates or “scutes.” Sturgeon are typically large, long-lived fish. Atlantic sturgeon have been aged to 60 years. They inhabit fast-moving freshwater rivers, lakes and, for some species, into the offshore marine environment of the continental shelf.  Atlantic sturgeon are similar in appearance to shortnose sturgeon but are larger in size with a smaller mouth and different snout shape.

In their estuarine and freshwater habitats, Atlantic sturgeon face threats from habitat degradation and loss from various human activities such as dredging, dams, water withdrawals and even ship strikes.

Atlantic Sturgeon

You may know that the delicacy caviar is salted sturgeon eggs which has been long associated with Russia and as a “treat of the tsars.” I have written elsewhere about the surprising history of New Jersey caviar.

In short, the Delaware Bay and Delaware River was one of the most productive sturgeon fisheries in the country in the late 1800s and the United States was the world’s top caviar exporter. A small town in New Jersey was named Caviar (or Caviar Point) because of its processing plant and railroad spur for sending the caviar north through the Pine Barrens to New York City.

In 1895, they were shipping 15 train cars of caviar and smoked sturgeon every day out of NJ. The fish were plentiful, but taking the females for their eggs, increasing demand and the species being one that is slow-maturing meant that this overfishing crashed the population and the business in the early 20th century.

Atlantic sturgeon were placed on the federal endangered species list. But Atlantic sturgeon were not eliminated from the Delaware River. The estimated 300 to 500 adult females that spawn there now is a very “endangered” population when compared to the estimated 180,000 breeding sturgeon believed to be in the bay prior to 1890, New Jersey monitors migration patterns and the slow comeback of the species.

American Indian names for the Full Moons, which was their calendar, always took note of the natural world.  August’s Full Moon was called the Green Corn Moon (being still early for some corn harvests in the north), Grain Moon, the Wheat Cut Moon (San Ildefonso, and San Juan Indians), Moon When All Things Ripen (Dakotah Sioux), the Moon When Cherries Turn Black or the Blueberry Moon (Ojibway).

Europeans and American Colonists took on much of the native information about the seasons but still tended to use names like Red Moon (for the reddish hue it often takes on in the summer haze), Mating Moon, Dog’s Day Moon (constellation), Woodcutter’s Moon, Chokeberry Moon, Summertime Moon, Corn Moon, and the Barley Moon.

Continuing with our Sturgeon Moon theme this month, we might wonder if fishing and fish activity changes when there is a Full Moon. That’s debatable and probably more about Moon Lore than about science. There are entire blogs devoted to Full Moons that I follow and there are plenty of theories.

The moonlight attracts or repels fish, depending on your beliefs and experiences. Of course, the actual fullest moment of the Moon isn’t always at night. It could occur during the day, so any influence would be felt then. This month, the Moon reaches its “full” moment in Paradelle in the afternoon at 02:09:24 pm (EDT) and on the Pacific coast it will be at 11:09:24 am. In Moscow, they can eat caviar, drink vodka and watch the Moon become full at 10:09:24 pm (MSK).

And, while we are thinking about the relativity of lunar events, this very Northern Hemisphere-centric blogger takes note that on the bottom half of this planet it is now time for the Snow Moon, Storm Moon, Hunger Moon, or Wolf Moon.


My father worked at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, NJ in the late 1950s and into the early 1960s.  Bell Labs was where the photovoltaic cell, the laser, the transistor and many other discoveries were born.

In 1961, my Dad wanted to move us to Holmdel, NJ where a new Bell Labs was located. That is where a 20-foot horn-reflector antenna was built to listen to the Milky Way. What the antenna was hearing was a constant hiss, though it had been built to avoid picking up extraneous interference.

This was in 1964.  Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias were two young astronomers working there and they couldn’t figure out what was hissing in their radio-wave measurements of the sky. Radio noise from New York City? Remnants of nuclear test detonations? Pigeons nesting in the antenna horn.

In 1931, the labs had made a foundation for radio astronomy when Karl Jansky was investigating the origins of static on long-distance shortwave communications and discovered that radio waves were being emitted from the center of the galaxy.

This was a time when there were two competing theories of the origin of the universe. The Steady State theory proposed that the universe was essentially unchanging and would look the same from every vantage point within it. the opposing theory was called the Big Bang theory. Proponents of the Big Bang theorized that the universe had begun with a massive explosion that created immense amounts of radiation, which gradually cooled but continued to expand from the force of the explosion.

The hissing interference persisted and the astronomers decided to ignore it and continue with their measurements.

I only discovered this history via a recent article by Leslie Garisto Pfaff.


Robert Wilson with the horn-reflector antenna in Holmdel – Photo by Christopher Lake


Penzias was told that he should connect with Robert Dicke at Princeton University. He gave him a call and talked to him while he and his fellow physicists were eating lunch.  Dicke realized by the end of the call that the Bell Labs astronomers had found evidence of the Big Bang theory in their microwave radiation. The hiss was radiation left over from the Big Bang (Cosmic Microwave Background). Wilson and Penzias wrote a paper about their discovery for publication.

The 1960s are not so long ago but back then, cosmology—the study of the origin and development of the universe—was quite new.  There was a Nobel Prize for Wilson and Penzias’s discovery which made the Big Bang theory the accepted origin story. The universe had a discrete beginning some 13.8 billion years ago with a an infinitesimally small bundle of immense energy that exploded and has continued to expand ever since.

Holmdel’s Crawford Hill still is home to the horn-reflector antenna which Pfaff describes in her article as looking like “a prop out of a 1950s science-fiction film. It doesn’t turn its ear to the cosmos any more., but it reminds us that the Big Bang was confirmed in new Jersey.

cherry blossom ani

Cherry blossoms are a staple of the haiku poets as a sign of spring.

3 poems by Basho

Leafless cherry,
old as a toothless woman,
blooms – mindful of its youth

A lovely spring night
suddenly vanished while we
viewed cherry blossoms

Kannon’s tiled temple roof
floats far away –
clouds of cherry blossoms

(Kannon is the Bodhisattva of Compassion)

3 poems by Issa

cherry blossoms scatter –
snap! the buck’s antlers
come off

cherry blossoms
under every tree
a Buddha on display

on the paper amulet
cherry blossoms

(inmons are paper charms or amulets sold at Buddhist temples)


Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Branch Brook Park in bloom with the Cathedral in the distance

Washington D.C is famous for the thousands of cherry trees sent there as a gift from Japan more than a hundred years ago. In my home state of New Jersey, we have the cherry trees of Branch Brook Park in Newark which actually has more cherry trees than D.C.  Every spring, residents and visitors can see the largest cherry blossom collection in the United States there.

Branch Brook Park has more than 2,700 Japanese cherry blossom trees that burst into full bloom during the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that features various events for visitors of all ages.

The park itself is historically unique for being the first county park in the United States opened to the public. It was designed by the famed landscape architectural firm of Olmsted Brothers, a successor to Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of Central Park in New York City.

The neighborhood on the east side of the park, Forest Hill, is Newark’s most affluent and is the setting for the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Basilica, the fifth-largest cathedral in North America.

From April 5-13, the park hosts its spring festival under pink petals. (see

Director Maurice Tourneur [left] with his 1st cameraman Lucien Andriot and 2nd cameraman John Van den Brouk on the set of ‘Poor Little Rich Girl’, Paragon Studios, Fort Lee, New Jersey, 1916.

I re-encountered the film Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee, N. J. on Netflix. I had seen this documentary sometime in college, and used it in a film course I taught.  My New Jersey students had a tough time accepting that Fort Lee, New Jersey was once the center of American film production. But it is true. This was at a time when Hollywood was full of orange groves.

This documentary combines photographs from private collections and restored footage from such films as Thomas A. Edison’s “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest” and D.W. Griffith’s “The New York Hat,” featuring Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore and filmed at the studios in Fort Lee.

D. W. Griffith made many one-reel Biograph dramas there (Mack Sennett appeared in his first film). Pearl White endured the “Perils of Pauline,” and Mary Pickford and Theda Bara starred in early features.

The American film industry got its start with the construction of Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria”, the first motion picture studio, in West Orange, New Jersey. New Jersey offered land for studios for much less than nearby New York City. By about 1916, a dozen major movie studios were operating across the Hudson River from Manhattan.

The movies came to Fort Lee when pioneer companies started to look for new filming locations. In 1907, it was found that the Palisades near Fort Lee and Coytesville could be used for “Wild West” scenes and other outdoor scenes. Rambo’s Hotel on First Street was used as a place to dress as well as for the exterior of a Western saloon.

In 1907, Thomas Alva Edison used the cliffs of the Palisades for the exterior of “Rescued from an Eagle’s Nest.” It was in this picture that D.W. Griffith, later to become more famous as a director, first appeared in a starring role as an actor.

In 1914, with the expansion of the giant French film companies into the United States market, Maurice Tourneur moved to the United States to direct silent films for Éclair’s American branch studio in Fort Lee.

His once-lost 1917 feature, A Girl’s Folly, is included on the DVD of Before Hollywood, There Was Fort Lee, N.J in a half-hour abridgement with views of the glass stages, rotating sets, tank for water effects, projection room, and crews at work, along with his hour-long 1914 feature, The Wishing Ring.

Watching these early films, you can see the development of film language with the early use of editing, intercutting and the variety of shots (fewer long shots and more close medium shots) which was rare in early films.

Fort Lee also prospered with the businesses that came to the city to service the film studios. Fort Lee’s reign as the film capital lasted about 20 years. Nestor Studios of Bayonne, New Jersey built the first studio in Hollywood in 1911. Later, Nestor merged with Universal Studios and co-owner William Horsley’s other company, Hollywood Film Laboratory, is now the oldest existing company in Hollywood (now known as Hollywood Digital Laboratory).

California’s climate was more cost-effective and by the 1930s pretty much all filmmaking had moved to the West Coast.

Another motivation to be on the opposite coast was because at the time Thomas Edison owned almost all the patents relevant to motion picture production. Movie producers on the East Coast who violated Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued. Movie makers on the West Coast were able to work independently of Edison’s control.


On Halloween back in 1938, Martians invaded the United States.

They did it in the form of a radio play. Orson Welles was behind this invasion and he used H.G. Well’s classic story, The War of the Worlds, as the blueprint.

I have written before about when the Martians landed in New Jersey that Halloween (October 30, 1938). So, why return to it now? It is because I listened to another great episode of Radiolab that told me more about not only the events of that day, but about the similar events that have occurred since.

The 1938 broadcast fooled over a million people when it originally aired. That includes regular folks listening to their radios, particularly in the area around Grover’s Mill, New Jersey where the Martians supposedly landed, but also the military, police and government officials.

The amazing thing I learned is that the broadcast was imitated a number of times since in places like Santiago, Chile, Buffalo, New York and in a quite tragic fashion in Quito, Ecuador.

WellesIn this age of heightened security and alerts, it is strange to learn that when Orson Welles played his little Halloween stunt he was labeled by the FCC as a “radio terrorist.”

As I wrote earlier, the audience reaction of panic and mass hysteria was more than Welles’ had expected, and it certainly had something to do with the pre-WWII atmosphere of that time. Radiolab said that some reports in New Jersey that night became that Nazis had invaded.

In the broadcast, Welles plays the role of an astronomer and Princeton professor who is called on as an expert.

I would assume that a 2013 audience listening to the original broadcast would not be fooled by its corniness. It mixes “real” radio music and talk with the radioplay and that was why listeners were taken in by it. The news breaks – which were a fairly new radio thing – get more frequent until they become all that we hear.

Of course, anyone in 1938 could have turned to another station and discovered that no one else was reporting news of an invasion by Martians. But most people didn’t change the channel.

Some people after the broadcast suggested that it was all planned by Welles, but that is like planning a viral video. It just doesn’t work that way. If you are a conspiracy theory fan, you’ll like this Wikipedia report:

It has been suggested War of the Worlds was a psychological warfare experiment. In the 1999 documentary, Masters of the Universe: The Secret Birth of the Federal Reserve, writer Daniel Hopsicker claims the Rockefeller Foundation funded the broadcast, studied the panic, and compiled a report available to a few. A variation has the Radio Project and the Rockefeller Foundation as conspirators. In a theatrical trailer for his film F For Fake, Welles joked about such theories, jesting that the broadcast indeed “had secret sponsors”.


The Martian “landing site” now has a monument in Van Nest Park in West Windsor Township, New Jersey.

I actually drove to the  the “Martian landing site” near Princeton. I didn’t expect to see Martians, but I was hoping for a few UFO conspiracy people to have a conversation with – but it was deserted.

Go ahead and listen to the War of the Worlds original radio broadcast and you will probably be amused and a bit bored. That is how I reacted to hearing it years ago. And that is why I was so interested in the Radiolab show that took it further.

Could it happen again? Could more modern audiences be fooled?

Listen to that program, but in brief, when in 1949 Radio Quito did the play in a version for their Equadorian listeners, it was taken quite seriously and resulted in a riot that burned down the radio station and killed at least 7 people.

Okay, but that’s a long time ago. Well, then you also need to listen to the tale of when it was again redone in the 1960s in Buffalo, New York.

I think the story of how people reacted to news of a “cylindrical meteorite” landing in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey is a fascinating study in psychology. When that meteorite unscrews and a tentacled Martian comes out and blasts the crowd with a heat-ray, all hell breaks loose.

Why Martians? Well, the early news reports were of explosions on the Mars surface. We know that Martians were the stuff of science-fiction in the 1940s and 50s too.

Police, firefighters and the NJ state militia gets involved, Martial law is declared in Jersey. The Martians get out their tripod machines and soldiers, citizens, power stations, transportation and buildings fall before them.

The “Secretary of the Interior” advises the nation and there are reports of cylinders falling all across the country. Tripods cross the Hudson River and attack New York City. A reporter atop the CBS building in NYC is knocked out by some strange gas. Then we hear a ham radio operator (How did he get on the CBS bandwidth?) calling, “2X2L calling CQ. Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there anyone on the air? Isn’t there…. anyone?”

After a station identification, the announcer reminded listeners that this was all a story. But by then people must have been packing and heading outside. My parents, who lived through it and listened to it live, told me that people in our hometown of Irvington, NJ headed for the South Orange Mountains. People reported smelling poison gas. There were reports of flashes of light – ray guns – in the distance.

If you hung in there for the end of the show, you got the same ending as in H.G Wells’ original The War of the Worlds novel – the Martians were defeated not by our weapons, but by our own “alien” germs and bacteria that killed them off. Orson Welles told listeners after the play for a third time that the show was just a Halloween story, but the damage (or fun) was already done.

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