Here They Come in Their Day-Glo Orange

November 20, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- The Norway maples along Union Avenue here tenaciously hold onto their leaves long after the other trees have seen their foliage blown into the Susquehanna. With November half over they're still providing a splash of color against the gray sky.

For most of the year, Norway maples are useful but uninteresting shade trees. In late November, though, they distinguish themselves with their determined holdout against conventional deciduous behavior. It won't last for long, and by Christmastime the Norways will have been stripped just as naked as all the other trees, but while they're making their quixotic stand against winter they ought to be recognized for it.

We don't have Norway maples on the farm. The last tree of ours to lose its leaves is usually another semi- domesticated species, the Osage orange -- or hedge-apple, as a lot of people call it. Some white oaks hang onto their leaves well into the winter too, but their shriveled leaves blend so well with the subdued colors of the landscape it's easy not to notice.

When most of the leaves suddenly go, whether or not the last leaves of the hedge-apples and Norway maples have gone with them, it's usually as though a switch has been thrown in my mind. If we've been idling along at half-speed through the fall, as you can do on a farm after harvest time, I'm reminded that it's time to pick up the pace again.

Motors and water lines need to be winterized. Machinery that won't be used again until spring should go under cover. The firewood we cut earlier and left in a pile should be split and stacked. And we have to get ready for deer season.

Not long after the leaves go, the deer hunters arrive, resplendent in their day-glo orange. They look forward to the hunting season as a high point of their year, but most landowners have a different perspective, and are almost as glad when it's over as the deer must be.

As the deer season approaches I receive increasingly insistent telephone calls and personal visits from people who want to hunt. Some of them I've never heard of, and they're the easiest to refuse. And some are people I know slightly, who greet me on the telephone with the creepy informality -- ''Hi, Pete! This is Bob Buckshot!'' -- of mutual-fund salesmen. I'm good at turning them down too.

As it happens, most of the people who hunt on my land during the week-long shotgun season are friends of mine who've been doing it for years. Most live nearby, stop in during the off season, and are quick to lend a hand on the farm when I'm in need of help. Several of them hunt during the bow-and-arrow season, too.

I'm not philosophically opposed to most legal hunting, which is ,, lucky, because it makes practical sense for a landowner to allow it. We have an abundance of deer, and without hunting would soon have too many. Also, if I didn't have my friends in my woods during the deer season, I'd have to spend virtually all my time during those few days chasing off armed trespassers.

It does seem to me, though, that hunting is only justified if your quarry is a pest, or if it's reasonably plentiful and you intend to eat it. Not all the hunting that the law allows fits that rather broad rule.

For example, foxes may be hunted legally in Maryland. So can various species of sea ducks. These ''sports'' strike me as pointless and unprincipled. Neither species is harmful, and tTC though some people who shoot sea ducks say they eat them, no one who's ever tried those birds believes that.

So why hunt them at all? You might as well authorize the shooting of hummingbirds or pileated woodpeckers.

Deer hunters may be annoying at times, but there's ample

justification for what they do, and no need for them to be ashamed of it. No one who shoots a deer on our place leaves it to rot. And while I mostly confine my own shooting these days to groundhogs, if the deer hunters have the sort of success they expect when the season opens November 26, I'll be glad to receive a little deerburger to sneak into the family chili.

When I noted earlier that farm life gets easier for a while after

harvest time, I didn't add the corollary that harvest time depends the crops you grow. Some of my neighbors who grow corn and soybeans are still out in the fields at this time of year, combining what appears to have been an abundant crop. I hope they make some money. But as good crops often mean low prices, I doubt that all those truckloads of grain will make them rich.

We stopped growing grain a couple of years ago, and found it saved us money. There's a lot of that going around. A farm magazine I receive recently asked its readers for the most successful ways they've found to hold down costs. To the magazine's dismay, one of the most common answers was ''quit growing corn.''

That sort of thing could make a farmer wonder what else he might give up in order to save even more, but fortunately we're too busy to worry about that right now.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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