Plenty of worse places to be

June 02, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE de GRACE -- So close that it almost hits the windshield, a brown thrasher crosses in front of the car and vanishes through a gap in a roadside hedgerow. From deep green shadow to bright sun and back into shadow again, its passage has lasted only a second or two.

Brown thrashers, related to catbirds and mockingbirds, are commonplace enough. But for some reason this one engages my full attention, and my brain makes one of those instant inexplicable connections that sometimes link present and past. From decades back, it produces the image of another brown thrasher crossing another country road on another summery afternoon.

I was the driver that time, too, though a much younger one. I was on my way to a party at a farm near Bel Air. I was driving an old jeep without any top, and the brown thrasher flew just above my head before it flashed across a gate and into a pasture. Landscape made a great impression on me at that time, and as the bird flicked past it seemed to make me focus especially intensely on the beauty of my surroundings.

At the party that evening, while we'd grilled steaks and sat outside as the shadows flowed across the fields, it had seemed to me that all my senses had grown more acute. Drugs could do that, I'd heard, but I hadn't consumed anything any more exotic than beef and a can of beer.

Well after dark a thunderstorm came up, and I remember driving home hell-for-leather in the topless jeep, trying to go fast enough so that the airstream over the windshield would keep the rain off. It was a good plan, I guess, but a raincoat would have worked better.

Now the road where the jeep and brown thrasher intersected all those years ago is a major thoroughfare lined with townhouses. The farm where the party was is long gone too. I don't travel that way very much any more if I can help it.

Closer to home the countryside has changed too, but not as radically. You can still see a brown thrasher cross a road. The other day I saw several little quail, which have been very scarce. We have our fair share of problems in our neighborhood, but a shortage of wildlife certainly isn't one of them.

A more serious problem concerns the weather, which farmers are expected to complain about. Around here at this time of year, it's likely to be too hot and too dry, as it was last spring. At that time the grass was too brown and the springs too low. I hated it. This year, though, the weather has been almost exactly what I'd been hoping for. We've had cool days, with plenty of rain. So are we happy? Only up to a point.

Alfalfa falling over

When there's rain there's grass, and if you have cattle that's what you need. Except that this spring the rain has made more grass than the cattle can possibly eat, which means there's been a lot of mowing to do. And while all that rain is great for growing hay, it's not great for curing it. We have alfalfa falling over in the fields right now because the weather has been too wet to mow it.

We're not planting corn this year, although thanks to the drought in the Midwest prices look so good I wish we were. On the other hand, all this local rain has made it difficult to get corn into the ground. Some farmers did manage to plant early, before the ground was soaked, but not all of them got away with it. Some were nailed by unusually late frosts, and had to plant all over again.

Often, early in the spring, I start looking ahead to the Memorial Day weekend and thinking how nice it would be to take a little vacation then. But invariably, by the time Memorial Day arrives we're so frantically busy that idea has been long since abandoned, and I spend most of the holiday working. That usually makes me feel sorry for myself.

This year, a friend and his wife had asked well in advance if they could come to our farm over Memorial Day and camp out. All the campgrounds they'd checked were booked up. I didn't mind, and I showed them several places where they could pitch a tent and not be in anyone's way.

When they arrived, the weather was as cool and clear as a Canadian September. No rain, no bugs. The campers set up their tent by the pond. Early the next morning before they were up, I was out checking on the cattle and looked down on their campsite from a hillside. It looked immaculate, like a photo from the L.L. Bean catalog.

When they'd arrived, I remembered, they'd looked around and said something about how lucky we were to live here. That alone made me glad they'd come. Especially on a farm, where there's always something to complain about, it's always good to be reminded that there are plenty of worse places to be.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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