A 'much of a which of a wind,' and Afterward

November 06, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- The wild wind that walloped Baltimore Tuesday afternoon, putting rubble in the streets and the city on network television, was kinder and gentler out in the Republican backwaters of the state. But it made itself felt there too.

It took out the top of a big old sycamore in a hilly pasture next to a house in the vicinity of Level, sending a couple of tons of wood crashing to the ground near but not on top of a herd of hunkered-down cows. It lifted the roof off a rabbit hutch. It drove water under a cellar door.

It sent what appeared to be a solid wall of leaves whipping downwind and out of sight at freight-train speed, making a certain homeowner glad he hadn't yet raked up his yard. The sudden, violent defoliation opened up the woods, in a few blustery minutes wrenching away the entire October landscape and replacing it with an austere almost-December one. It also set e.e. cummings to reciting in the certain homeowner's brain:

''what if a much of a which of a wind/ gives the truth to summer's lie,/ bloodies with dizzying leaves the sun/ and yanks immortal stars awry?''

What if, indeed? The homeowner is never sure exactly what cummings is driving at with those lower-case torrents of alliteration, but assumes he must have composed that passage after a windstorm like Tuesday's.

Out along the roads the soggy political signs bent in the wind and sometimes fell over, Sauerbrey along with Glendening, Ehrlich along with Brewster, Sarbanes along with Brock, Goldstein along with Yard Sale This Sat. No doubt there was important symbolism there, but it was hard to decipher it.

Surely there ought to be some meaningful and significant way to entwine politics, poetry and the unusual weather, thought the homeowner, pondering a newspaper deadline. Something about the winds of change, perhaps, or being gone with the wind, or whistling in the wind. Something poetic and meaningful. But it eluded him.

The day after the storm, the homeowner and friends had planned to take a boat from Kent Island up the Choptank River, maybe catching a rockfish on the way. But the winds of Wednesday, while not of network-news quality, were still racing briskly out of the west and gusting close to 40 miles per hour. They made the Chesapeake frothy and uninviting -- except of course to the wet-suited windsurfers, who emerge after every storm and frolic like dragonflies in the spray.

The windsurfers made the home owner think of Matthew Arnold: ''Nature, with equal mind,/ Sees all her sons at play;/ Sees man control the wind,/ The wind sweep man away.''

The intimidated fishing party drove home by way of Chestertown, stopping on the town dock to share lunch with the ducks. The wind was still blowing, but the protected surface of the Chester only trembled, and they wondered if it wouldn't have been better to have endured a soaking on the Bay in order to win shelter on the Choptank.

But if the Maryland weather teaches anything, it's the value of patience. The late fall especially is an endless surprise, and what happens today can be replaced overnight with something very different. So a day later, the adventurers cautiously tried again.

And yes, sure enough, on the lower Choptank it appeared that mid-October had returned. Oyster tongers worked in their shirtsleeves, their boats motionless on the glassy water. None of them are making a living at it this season, but watermen, like farmers, follow the principle that you just plug on at your chosen occupation until the money runs out.

Although the season was masquerading as October, there were November giveaways everywhere. The color ashore had faded, the ospreys had disappeared, and everywhere in the mouth of the river there were loons, who always show up to signal the shift of the season. They'll stay around until winter and then head offshore, passing back through again in March and April on their way back north.

By the time the adventurers' little boat had passed Cambridge, slipping under the Frederick C. Malkus bridge (inexplicably named for the retiring state senator who for years opposed its construction), another benefit of the recently unsettled weather had become apparent.

After the winds had died and the extra water they had pushed up into the Eastern Shore rivers had drained out, there was a very low tide. That in turn was followed by a long and vigorous flood as the water surged back, and the boat rode the surge upstream, covering about two miles more every hour than it would have managed in still water.

Away up the beautiful river, the crew tied the boat to a pier and went home. The attack ads blaring on the television that evening demonstrated that the current political gale hadn't yet blown itself out, but the picturebook autumn day that had followed the two windy ones promised that sooner or later that weather would change too.

4( Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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