Me

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.

Rent-A Redneck?

Many years ago, when Martin and I had just bought our farm, we woke early to marvel at our new property.

“Just look at the view,” Martin said, pulling me to the window. “Isn’t that a great sight?”
The sun was already high in a brilliant blue sky and birds twittered along the carriage house.
“Hey, look at the groundhog,” I said pointing at a fat, sandy-colored, beaver-creature ambling around the boxwoods. “Isn’t it cute?”
Just then Pongo, the neighbor’s dalmatian, darted in view and sunk his jaws into the groundhog’s midsection. He thrashed the dickens out of it.
The groundhog put up a fight; it screeched a near-human scream and slashed the air with its claws. But the oversized rodent was no match for Pongo. After an interminable five minutes, the dalmatian dragged away the limp quarry, leaving a pool of blood on the drive.
“Well,” said Martin, “welcome to the country.”
That was 11 years ago. During our naive-newbie days. When groundhogs were cute and Pongo was a miserable cur with a murderous streak.
Now I’d give anything for Pongo and his blood-thirsty vigor.
Since that dog’s passing, groundhogs have been a growing problem. They unearth ankle-breaking holes in our horse pasture. Historically, the burrows have been nestled near the trees — in an area avoided by galloping horses.
But last weekend Martin was mowing the back field when he lost a tire down a huge groundhog burrow. He freed the mower and moments later, Hadley ran across the field and encountered the same crater.
It nearly swallowed her whole.
I did not photograph Hadley’s mishap, but asked if she’d serve as a measuring stick:
“You want me to do what?”
Water and nurture them as seedlings and your kids will sprout in the springtime…
Going, going, almost gone….
It would be devastating if a horse stepped into one of these holes so we’ve moved the herd to the front field while we plot the groundhogs’ “departure.”
There are all sorts of homemade eradication methods — stuffing the burrow with moth balls, ammonia rags, Pine-sol, gasoline, exhaust fumes, sulfur gas cartridges, or cat urine. There are also Havahart traps. But among the dozen I’ve queried, one solution floats to the top: find a good marksman.
Unfortunately, I’m only certified to shoot a water gun. We need to borrow a hunter or rent a redneck. Someone who knows what they’re doing — unlike the pigeon hunters who predated us; they shot up the hayloft, turning the barn roof into a colander.
Sorry, groundhogs. You and and your bone-breaking burrows have got to go!