Woman finds serenity on isolated Carroll farm

September 22, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

Vanda Foster spends most evenings out back, talking to her animals, playing in the garden or fussing with her flower beds.

There is no other human in sight. There are no human sounds, no human threat, no human distractions.

"I like being isolated," Ms. Foster says. "It's peaceful. Besides, the animals don't talk back to you."

She lives in northern Carroll County, "right outside Union Mills," she says, as if Union Mills itself were more than a dot on the map.

Her old farmhouse is a mile down a gravel road. About one car an hour intrudes, kicking up a little dust and disappearing before the dust settles.

Ms. Foster, 45, is a tough, independent woman at home in the spacious hills of Maryland. Red-haired and freckled, she has found her place in this crazy, tumultuous world.

"This is what I want," she says. "I don't have to depend on anybody for anything."

She grew up on farms in Carroll County, dreaming as a girl about having her own farmhouse to fix up. That was her simple dream, that and owning two horses, an Appaloosa and a palomino.

Now she owns an Appaloosa and a palomino, as well as another horse, three goats, two stray cats that recently presented her four kittens, one rabbit, two dogs, five hives of bees, about 30 doves, 30 to 35 pigeons, about 50 chickens, and probably 75 to 100 birdhouses.

She and her mother bought this country haven seven years ago. They were both separated from their husbands. The two women were searching for serenity.

They found it right outside Union Mills -- a rundown farmhouse on 5 1/2 acres surrounded by a cornfield, meadows and woods. The nearest neighbor was down the hill, plenty far away.

They gutted the entire house and remodeled it.

"What we didn't know we asked questions about and learned," Ms. Foster says. "I'm more or less a tomboy. There ain't much I can't do if I put my mind to it."

For example, she watched a friend set up a beehive next to her garden. When the bees swarmed the next year, Ms. Foster tied a scarf around her face, slipped rubber bands over her pants legs, and moved the bees herself into a new hive.

She lived here at first with her mother and daughter. But her mother moved into a trailer in Pennsylvania, and her daughter moved out.

Her daughter moved back a couple of weeks ago, but before that Ms. Foster lived alone with her animals and birds. She says the birdhouses were her mother's idea.

Her mother spotted an old toy at the Westminster Rescue Mission she thought would make a nice bird house. After that they bought plastic toys at yard sales -- barns, houses, tubby bears -- and made bird houses out of scrap wood. They secured them to fence posts, tree stumps, poles, outside the barn, next to the house and in trees, especially the walnut, white pine and maple in the front yard.

Ms. Foster points to the maple.

"That's where my peacock used to sit," she says. "But a stray dog got him."

She also had two skunks. She'd go for a drive with one draped over her shoulders and the other stretched out in the back window.

"People looked at me like I was nuts," she says.

She isn't nuts, just picky about the company the keeps. She hates crowds of people she doesn't know. She's not particularly crazy about crowds of people she does know. But she puts up with them.

For nearly 20 years she has worked at the Black and Decker plant in Hampstead, doing a variety of jobs. She works 10 to 12 hours a day.

After particularly trying days, she doesn't wander out back to talk to her animals. She sits on her porch and watches the birds -- the bluebirds and the wrens -- as they dive and soar and then disappear into their snug houses.

Across the gravel road the sun melts into the cornfield. The slant of light strikes Ms. Foster in her rocker, illuminating a solitary woman at peace with the world.

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