Rural Life

The Jalopy

Occasionally Martin embarks on random hikes in the woods, exploring the forested girth encircling Sugarloaf Mountain. He laces up his hiking boots, calls the dog to his side, and slips through the cornfield across the road.

I get it. These bush-hacking larks offer the only chance for solitude. A temporary respite from work, kids and me.

Invariably though, my cell phone rings. “Hey, can you come pick me up?”

“Yea, sure,” I’ll say. “Where are you?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere in the woods.”

On his last outing, Martin stumbled on an abandoned truck mired in a wooded creek bed. “It reminded me a little of that jalopy we saw in Sonoma,” he said. “Do you want to see it?”

So last week — on a random kid-free afternoon — we struck out in search of Martin’s junker truck.

I didn’t expect his discovery to resemble the old jalopy in sunny California.

Last fall, somewhere in Sonoma

Around here, antique cars don’t fare well in the East coast elements. And Martin’s find had been rotting in the woods.

But I like all things old. And I was game to see anything that might spark memories of wine tasting and our fancy B&B from vacation.

As Martin and I abandoned the sun-baked corn field and waded into a vast stretch of woods and poison ivy, I expressed mild reservations: “You’re never going to find that truck in this mess!”

“Trust me, I’ll find it.”

We cut through the high grass and followed a narrow deer trail until it dissolved into nothing but waist-high thistle, twisted greenery and wince-worthy thorns. In the thick overgrowth we adopted a goose step to clear the prickers and poison ivy. Even so we were itchy and sweaty.

Just when all seemed lost — who should we call and how will they find us? I thought — Martin announced: “Here it is!”

Camouflaged in a sea of green was the old truck, a rusty victim of weather and neglect.

I’m no gear head but I’d guess that the truck dated back to the early ’50s. And at some point in its life, the once road-worthy ride was downgraded to farm vehicle. A large tank rested on the wood runners — probably used to dispense insecticides over fields. Then someone had driven it too far and mired it in the forest lowland. Maybe the owners planned to retrieve it but never got around to it. Maybe they abandoned it on purpose.

Clearly we were not the first to stumble on it. Hunters had used the rusted body for target practice. Not a glimmer of glass remained and it was stripped of any scrap worth stealing. The door yawned open, as if the driver had stepped out for a second.

We crept through the prickers and peered inside. But we didn’t linger. Nearby, buzzed the distinctive hum of ground bees.

I don’t know if we’ll see our jalopy again but if we do stumble on it, I’ll know that we’re not lost. Yet.

Avian Abode

That slime mold post is too gross to get top billing. So let’s move on to something more pleasant: our neighbors’ purple martin colony.

For all you non-ornithologists, the purple martin is the largest member of the swallow family — an agile, acrobatic bird that feeds on flying insects. Purple martins overwinter in South America and migrate north in the spring to nest and breed.

Now here’s where things get interesting: purple martins around found throughout the US but east of the Rockies, they are entirely dependent on humans for artificial housing. Without the construction of nesting gourds and martin houses, these birds would disappear in eastern states. (Reasons for their decline? Aggressive, non-native birds; prolific and opportunistic native species; and weather extremes that affect insects.)

Our neighbors Chet and Paula are purple martin supporters. Each year they hang several gourd clusters in their yard. Right now there are oodles of birds singing and plucking flies from of the sky.

Recently, Chet invited a few people over while he lowered the gourds for a nest check.

Brynn missed the “casual dress” memo.

But she contributed to the captive audience.

As Chet lowered the gourds, we discovered that a few nests were occupied by uninvited tenants. Squatters, so to speak, including a tiny swallow that fluttered out and onto the ground.

If not for the onlookers, I think that baby sparrow would have been evicted. But bowing to pint-sized presence, Chet put the fledgling back in its nest.

Fortunately most of the gourds housed purple martin families…

or families to be.

While the kids gazed inside, Chet and Paula took inventory of the babies and eggs. Meanwhile the parents perched atop neighboring poles, overseeing the activity. Once the nests were restored to their normal height, the birds returned. Business as usual.