Maryland thoroughbred world revealed in local breeder's diary

BOOKS & AUTHORS

February 28, 1993|By James H. Bready

Country Life is the name of a Harford County farm where the Pons family has been breeding horses, primarily for racing, since 1933. "This little horse factory," Josh Pons fondly calls it at one point; this lovely acreage hard by the I-95 development corridor where "land speculators hide in the trees." The future is clouded; Baltimore County next door may still have 125 horse farms, but Maryland's annual total of registry yearlings is in decline. And how fickle is nature.

In 1989, Mr. Pons began a day-to-day journal, for column use in the Blood-Horse, a Kentucky magazine. Because he writes with clarity and style, the editors have republished a thousand entries as a book, "Country Life Diary: Three Years in the Life of a Horse Farm," illustrated by his wife Ellen (paperback, $19.95).

The entries, best read at intervals, are a series of close-ups. Covering and foaling, midnight medical crises and warm spring sunshine, scraps of history from the realm that calls itself Thoroughbred, and of course racetrack action -- Mr. Pons doesn't stand there explaining; he takes you along on his rounds. Not since Humphrey S. Finney's 1935 "Stud Farm Diary" has there been such a book.

*

Terra Mariae est omnis divisa in partes quinque. From right to left, and in geologist's English rather than Caesar's Latin, Maryland is divided into five parts or provinces, namely Coastal Plain, Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, Allegheny Plateau. And it is sort of nifty, the diversity of rocks, soils and waters in a state of this size; of its igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic components, its fossils and nappes and Baltimore gabbro.

Plenty of information may be had at the Maryland Geological Survey, 2300 St. Paul St., but a single, lucid 137-page account now brings it all together for the lay reader: "Maryland's Geology" (Tidewater Publishers; paperback, $24.95) by Martin F. Schmidt Jr. of Finksburg and the faculty of McDonogh School.

Mr. Schmidt seeds the technical stuff with many an aureate nugget -- for example: Garrett County as producer of natural gas, not just coal; Maryland's location eons ago south of the equator, and current location gratifyingly far from any tectonic-plate edge; our annual water flow (9 trillion gallons in rainfall and 11 trillion in streams from outside, minus 6 trillion lost to evaporation and transpiration and 2 trillion to humanity -- that last figure is rising).

The discovery period in Maryland geology, he notes, still goes on.

* Why did our (European) ancestors cross the ocean? The primary reason: seeking a new and better life here, especially for their children.

But was the motive sometimes less idealistic -- to make money, then scoot back to the old country?

Alan L. Karras, a Johns Hopkins graduate now teaching at Georgetown University, finds this latter pattern true for a small but influential group of foreign-born in Maryland, Virginia and the Caribbean, called sojourners. His new book is, "Sojourners in the Sun: Scottish Migrants in Jamaica and the Chesapeake, 1740-1800" (Cornell University Press, $34.50).

That far back, ships kept no systematic passenger lists, but Dr. Karras has combed many archives for maps, ledgers and correspondence. These particular careerists were educated, middle-class lowlanders; some taught, some healed but most were in business -- Jamaica, sugar; here, tobacco. Many did well; others, Scots ironically loyal to England, lost all in the Revolutionary War.

Some historians think as many as one-third of 19th- and 20th-century European immigrants to the United States "re-emigrated."

*

Chatter: The Baltimore Smith College Club's 35th annual used-book sale: Towson Armory, Washington and Chesapeake avenues, March 19-21.

Baltimore Writers' Alliance meeting: March 9, 7:30 p.m., Elkridge Estates; topic, business writing.

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