The last day of August

September 05, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- It was on the last day of August in 1983 that the Russians shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 when it strayed over Sakhalin Island, I just happen to remember. There, and here, the weather that day was clear.

Thirteen years later, before sunrise on the last day of August 1996, it wasn't clear at all. Fog had settled over the countryside so densely that when I woke in the darkness, in our bedroom under the maple tree, I heard a steady dripping on the roof and thought it was raining.

Rain was expected eventually, courtesy of the offshore hurricane that had been dominating the attention of the meteorologists for the last several days, but this was too soon. If it was raining now it would be a serious problem. I had some good hay on the ground and I was counting on baling it that afternoon.

But the drips weren't rain, I found after performing a barefoot inspection outdoors on the squishy grass. They were only condensed fog running off the maple leaves. At breakfast I listened to the weather oracles on the radio. They said the hurricane, if it were to arrive in Maryland at all, was still 24 hours away.

A lot to do

That was what I had been counting on. There was a lot to do before bad weather arrived, but probably just enough time to do it, if I got moving promptly. I went to the barn, did the early-morning chores, and headed for Havre de Grace.

The Susquehanna is a big river, and in severe weather, especially when it blows hard from the east, it can get very rough. I had a workboat docked in an exposed slip there, and thought that if a hurricane were coming, it would make sense to shift it to more protected waters on the Eastern Shore.

Over the river, when I arrived, the fog was thicker than ever. When I got to the boat, not only could I not see the far shore, or the buoys making the channel, I could barely see the land I'd just left at the other end of the dock.

I started the engine and waited, drinking coffee and wondering whether to go ahead. I've been down the narrow Havre de Grace channel in the fog before, and it can be a stressful trip. Normally I would have waited for the fog to burn off. But this morning, knowing that if I couldn't go soon I might as well not go at all, I was in a hurry.

Tempered hurry

Maybe not that much of a hurry, though, I thought all at once as a tugboat and a barge about as big as an apartment house loomed suddenly out of the fog, then immediately dissolved again on their way upriver. Perhaps I could wait for an hour or so.

But just then there was a great rattling overhead and a silvery train miraculously flew by in the air, high above the river. When it was gone part of the bridge on which it had traveled was just visible, and a pale sun could at last be seen through the diminishing fog. As I cast off the lines and eased the boat out of the slip, the last day of August was rapidly beginning to clear.

Because this was a holiday weekend, the Chesapeake and its tributaries were crowded with recreational craft. If a hurricane were indeed coming, you'd think that the prudent thing to be doing would be securing one's boat. But, perhaps in a spirit of carpe diem, most of the morning's traffic seemed blithely outward bound. On a buoy in the Sassafras River a mature bald eagle sat watching the yachty procession as his perch rolled violently in the turbulence of many wakes.

By a little after noon, my boat mission completed, I was home again, and hooking up hay wagons. The fog-dampened hay was now light and dry, and under a cloudless sky a light north wind was ruffling the windrows. This would probably be the last hay we would be able to make this year, and the weather, astonishingly, seemed to have decided to cooperate.

All that afternoon we baled, stacking the wagons as full as we dared so we could finish the field before having to stop and unload. It was hot work, and dusty, but very satisfying. My father drove out in his jeep to supervise. A friend came by with his tractor to help. And by the end of the day, as the shadows started to reach out from the woods across the stubble, we had several hundred bales under cover, all safe from the anticipated rain. So much for another August. So much for another summer.

I went home and had a shower, and we went out for pizza in Bel Air to celebrate my daughter Sarah's birthday. She was born just 13 years ago, which may explain why I remember the day so well, including the clarity of the weather and the Russian barbarities halfway around the world which for a little while dominated the news.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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