Nature, Israel, Cal Ripken, eyes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

John W. Taylor, venting his passion for Chesapeake Bay, has the advantage of a double talent: As outdoorsman, he explores, notices and diarizes; as artist, he freeze-frames and perpetuates. When a storm comes up and wildlife takes cover, he has plenty of bay to work on indoors.

His new book of words and delicate-color illustrations, "Chesapeake Spring" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 128 pages, $34.95), is broad in format and time. This "spring" runs from Dec. 26 to June 21. Taylor's pauses are labeled Marumsco Creek, Corrotoman River, Sheepshead Cove, Beverly Beach County Park, Jug Bay Wetlands Park, Dragon Run, Barren Island. But nothing is barren to his eye, and hand.

A previous book of John W. Taylor paintings was "Birds of the Chesapeake Bay," and birds abound here, too, amid otter, shad, gray treefrog, salamander, butterfly, muskrat, diamondback terrapin. As for people, he hauls Constantine Rafinesque and Mary E. Banning back from oblivion - forerunners of his. Otherwise, mostly it's this solitary, sensitive, accurate naturalist.

Fifty years after the Siege of Fort McHenry and the Battle of North Point, Baltimore revered the surviving citizen-soldiers who back in 1814 repulsed Britain's amphibious best. These gaffers were, admiringly, the Old Defenders. Yet there were limits to 1864's anniversary observance, such as the larger war then going on.

Fifty present-century years ago, Israel declared itself a sovereign state; the same day, six separate Arab armies invaded.

Off and on since 1969, Aaron Levin, a Baltimorean then and still, has studied and worked in Israel. As its anniversary neared, he sought out Old Defenders, men and women, to make black-and-white portraits and obtain how-it-was recollections. The large and handsome result - "Testament: At the Creation of )) Israel" (Artisan, 194 pages, $35) - is enhanced here and there by a long-ago photo of the combat veteran, today famous or obscure, who is speaking.

Whenever Cal Ripken Jr. plays in one more game it's tabulated, as are his every hit, run, homer, etc. But one statistic is less certain. How many publications have there been about him by now? Including books for kids, other-language translations, special promotions?

Here's another. "Nine Innings With Cal Ripken Jr.," edited by James Beckett (Beckett Publications, Dallas, Texas, 128 pages, oversize, $19.95) has some of the best photos yet, and nine as-told-to tributes. One is from Theo Chen, a collector, whose $14 ticket to Game 2,131 cost him $175 from a broker and (stamped by a tickettaker, not torn) is now worth, he reports, about $200. Chen's not a top collector, it seems; he has only "30 or so" Ripken autographs.

As a grad student at the University of Maryland College Park, Dean A. Sullivan works in that new discipline, American sports history. Dissertation? He already has two general-reader books out - big baseball moments, in the reprinted coverage of long ago. In 1995 came "Early Innings: A Documentary History of Baseball, 1825-1908"; now the second volume is "Middle Innings," 1900 through 1948. Both are from the University of Nebraska Press; the latter is $238 pages, $45.

Sullivan resurrects an earlier game that led directly to the Fred Merkle boner; a 1911 attempt at a Hall of Fame (in Baseball Magazine); and a 1909 game in which Bill Donovan of Detroit pitched all 17 innings, throwing 231 pitches. The writing varies in these contemporary accounts; some celebrity byliners now appear windy and affected. The times do change: Joe McGinnity's 1923 shutout for Dubuque, pitched at age 52, took one hour, seven minutes. The times stay the same: Sullivan's closing narrative is about Babe Ruth.

Schoolbooks tiptoe around it, but where the military goes, in history, so does a complement of merchants, civilian riffraff - and women. In Lucia St. Clair Robson's latest novel, "Fearless" (Ballantine, 388 pages, $24.95), the heroine, an 1840s sergeant's widow, lives in the part of camp called Sudsville. Laundresses were a help, in the heat and dirt of war with Mexico.

Her name is Sarah Bowman Borginnis, and she's 6 feet, muscular, sanguine and right-minded. Sarah knows everyone, from Gen. Zach Taylor on down. The men call her Great Western (for a steamer, not a battleship). When battle begins, the stuff about Molly Pitcher pales.

Sarah was a real person. For her book, Robson, a thorough researcher as well as lively writer, inspected the terrain and scoured the records. The publishers, for their part, solicited a dust-jacket endorsement from the high priest of Old Southwest derringdo, Larry McMurtry. Quite a gal! responded the menfolk of Lonesome Dove.

You can read these words; you're fine. Let an errant cinder or eyelash impair vision, however, and "it's hard to concentrate on anything but your eyes." So remark Gary H. Cassel, Michael D. Billig and Harry G. Randall, the three Baltimore authors of "The Eye Book: A Complete Guide to Eye Disorders and Health" (Johns Hopkins University Press, 367 pages, $39.95; softbound, $19.95). This "owner's manual" is the latest listing in the well-regarded Johns Hopkins Press Health Book series; in it, two Wilmer Institute ophthalmologists and one optometrist/contact-lens specialist, between them, write informatively and pleasantly, with 48 clear line drawings.

Optical science and technology have been galloping, as elsewhere in medicine. Now we have bifocals without the line divider; the lens alters gradually. We have out-patient cataract surgery, lens implants, lasers galore. The authors deal carefully wth that fight-starter, refractive surgery (have your cornea reshaped, throw away your glasses).

The thrust of "The Eye Book" is aging, and one more body organ that can just plain wear out. Here be cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Nothing is said about such threats to eyesight as tumors, African river blindness, retinitis pigmentosa; the book's subtitle is inexact.

Does sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end damage your eyes? "Well, it sure doesn't do them any good," but there are sensible ways to relieve strain.

James H. Bready wrote for The Evening Sun for many years as reporter and a book editor. He writes a monthly column on Maryland books.

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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