Better not leave home you'll miss something

September 07, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- An old friend of mine I'll call Eliot wants to go to Bosnia as an official observer of the elections there. I only know this because a woman called me up the other day to check his references, and I turned out to be one of them.

As I have a high regard for Eliot I replied that not only was he an excellent choice, but if I knew he were observing those elections I'd feel much more confident about their outcome. No dead Serbs will cast any ballots if Eliot has anything to say about it. I considered adding that I wished someone would ask him to observe the elections in Baltimore, but decided that might be gratuitous.

After I hung up I wondered why Eliot, who has never mentioned Bosnia in my presence in the thirty-odd years I've known him, suddenly wants to go there. I suppose it's just the travel bug, which has bitten him hard; he runs around the world these days as though he were Jimmy Carter or Vicki Mabrey. Half the time when I call his office they say he's in some place I can't spell.

I used to have the travel bug, but I recovered from it. And every so often something happens that acts as a booster shot and increases my resistance, so I'm less likely to come down with it again. The recent business about the bear was a case in point.

Actually, it probably wasn't a bear that broke into my next-door neighbor's rabbit hutch a couple of weeks ago, but bear stories are all the rage around here right now. A bear had been reported in Forest Hill, about 10 miles away, and now every time something rattles outside in the night-time, the ursine rumors begin to fly.

Years back there were cougar rumors of the same sort, but nobody ever actually saw a cougar. A bear does seem remotely possible, as there are plenty of them in Pennsylvania. Perhaps if we wish hard enough for a bear, one will come. Anyway, the rumors are so heated that if Harford County hasn't hired a bear-control officer yet, it's surely only a matter of time. I'm looking for a bear hot line and bear web site, too.

Perhaps a troll

The authorities came and examined the smashed hutch, peered at the big footprints in the mud, and opined that they might be a bear's. (Others who saw the prints said they looked like a German shepherd's, but what do they know? The tracks could also have been made by a werewolf, or perhaps a troll.) One rabbit was found dead, but one turned up in my barnyard, looking quite perky.

And where was I during all this excitement? Several hundred miles away, traveling. Which demonstrates yet again that if you leave home, even for a few days, you're almost certain to miss something interesting.

Another important thing that happened while I was gone was the barn swallows' departure. This was premature -- almost two weeks before their usual checkout time. Last spring they returned late from South America, and this fall they leave early. Is there a pattern here? If Ocean City's tourists started behaving like the swallows and shortening their season at each end, you can bet the legislature would be promising to do something about it.

Even though the swallows have gone, the hummingbirds, who have almost as long a migration ahead of them, are still buzzing around the feeder. I suppose I ought to take the feeder away as a gentle hint that September's here, but I can't bring myself to do that quite yet. Maybe the bear will come and smash it.

Speaking of travel, a rockfish caught, tagged and released by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's John Page Williams in the Patapsco River near the Key Bridge in February was caught again three months later at the mouth of Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay. The recapture was reported rather breathlessly by BOAT/U.S. magazine, which marveled at the fish's 400-mile journey.

It didn't seem to me to be all that extraordinary. After all, that's what rockfish are supposed to do. What does seem worth noting is that the current coastal abundance of striped bass is directly related to Maryland's moratorium of a number of years ago. Maryland fishermen, recreational and commercial, almost destroyed this species, and it was Maryland's restraint that helped it recover.

I was thinking about all this the other evening as I cleaned a catfish for a young man who'd caught it in our pond. In the old days when rockfish were so plentiful there were no legal limits to taking them, I hardly ever ate catfish, but during the moratorium I came to appreciate them. They're easy to catch and very tasty.

After taking the filets from the fish we tossed what was left out in the woods. Catfish, an old frontiersman once told me over coffee in the Harford Mall, makes great bear bait.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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