Time to drift

November 23, 1997|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE DE GRACE -- There isn't ever enough time.

This is a truth universally acknowledged, and now in late November, with the daylight shrinking away, it seems more painfully trite than ever. Scurry along as we will, we won't get to finish all we've set out to do. It's a game no one wins.

That's a fact of the human condition, and we ought to take it in stride. But it's especially bothersome at this season, when even the most ordinary celestial events seem to conspire against us. On the farm, the sun dawdles on its reluctant way over the eastern hills in the mornings, and we struggle along doing chores in the frosty half-light waiting for it to get serious. It's 9 o'clock before everything warms up.

A racing sun

Then in the afternoons, after we've shed our coveralls and begun to get into the swing of the day, the sun decides it's time to accelerate. So it races for the horizon like an hourly worker at quitting time, dropping out of the sky and taking the day with it. With nothing left but a red afterglow and a memory, we park the tractor, feed the calves, put the tools away and resolve to get something more accomplished tomorrow.

If we find all this discouraging, the shrinks say it's because we have seasonal depression. To combat this, they helpfully suggest that we turn on more lights or plan a vacation in Australia. Or, of course, they can prescribe a little mood-enhancing chemistry. But there are other alternatives.

The other afternoon, my seasonal despondency deepened by the sudden loss of a good friend, I abandoned the farm for a while and took to the river. It was a calm, cold day. An hour before sunset, I launched a skiff and headed out around the edge of the Susquehanna Flats, looking for ducks, or an eagle, or some other cheering sight.

My friend John Hegeman, who died this past week, knew these waters -- though as a busy farmer and engineer, and later as one of Harford County's leading conservationists, he probably didn't spend as much time afloat as he might have wished.

Creative man

Although he was an extraordinarily creative and vigorous man, and must have experienced the same frustrations as other people who try to make the very best use of their time, he never seemed hurried or impatient. As I got to know John better over the last few years, while I served with him on the board of the land trust he conceived and almost single-handedly founded, this was one of his qualities that I found most remarkable.

John was a technical man, good with his hands at work and at home. Army service in World War II interrupted his schooling, but after the war he got a degree in mechanical engineering and worked at Bethlehem Steel as superintendent of the rod and wire mill at Sparrows Point.

His energy continually pushed him in new directions, but in a remarkably steady and persistent way. He and Sue had four children and, eventually, seven grandchildren. He got a degree in English literature. He ran a farm where, when he wasn't tending his cattle or mowing pasture, he built a 50-foot schooner in his barn. That project took years, and the neighbors chuckled, but the day came when the boat was launched. One summer John and his son, Peter, sailed her to Maine.

He was a teacher as well as a doer. Computers came naturally to him, and he introduced me, whom my own family had given up as a hopeless technophobe and electronic illiterate, to e-mail and the Internet.

About eight years ago, he concluded that Harford County needed a land trust -- a non-profit organization which would raise its own funds to protect farms and natural areas threatened by development. ''We've just got to do this,'' he told a friend. And when nobody seemed to be moving, he did it himself. As a direct result of his determination, hundreds of acres in his home county have been permanently protected, and the machinery is there to protect many more. That's John Hegeman's legacy.

Out on the Flats, alone in my little tin boat, I found no ducks, saw no eagles. I wanted to go farther, maybe up into Furnace Bay, but the sun was almost gone and I knew I'd have to get home.

There's never enough time.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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