Bucolic

(This column first appeared in the June 15, 1998 Buffalo News.)

    My dictionary defines bucolic as characteristic of the countryside; rural; pastoral; idyllic.

    That indeed is my setting this morning. I seldom have an opportunity to enjoy this kind of environment in Buffalo, but here in Hartselle, Alabama I spend many pleasant hours luxuriating in a lawn chair and soaking in the country around me.

    My mother-in-law's home is surrounded by an acre of lawn and beyond that are perhaps a dozen more acres of open fields bordered by thick woods in one direction, orchard and shade trees in others.

    Although some of this could be duplicated in the country around Buffalo, much could not. Mom's trees are long-needled pines and sweetgums and her resident birds include mockingbirds -- a pair nests in the pines -- and Carolina chickadees, smaller than our black-capped with no white in the wings and a higher pitched call. Last night a chuck-will's-widow, a southern relative of the whip-poor-will, named itself incessantly from the woods and this morning a nearby bob-white whistles its two notes.

    A less attractive difference is the temperature. As I write this at 8:00 a.m., it is already in the high 80s and it will climb above 95 this afternoon. I will have retreated to the house by then where the noisy old air conditioner cools a half dozen degrees.

    But other things are like home. Mourning doves coo, cardinals whistle and brown thrashers compete with the mockingbirds for Oscar winning song. A thrasher nests in the bush beside me; she sneaks in from the other side. A yellow-billed cuckoo occasionally cow-cow-cows from a sweetgum, robins and grackles explore the lawns, meadowlarks and bluebirds perch on phone wires. Swallowtail butterflies ply the shrubs and a gray squirrel bounds across the yard.

    This is usually a calm, quiet place, but yesterday was an exception. In the afternoon when I went out to the car to run an errand, I noticed a herd of cattle -- about 40 cows -- moving up toward the highway outside their fence.

    I called to my wife to notify the neighbors and drove up to see what I could do to head off the herd. All I could think of was a recent conversation with John Sellick about how difficult a time he and his neighbors had getting his cows back when they escaped.

    Fortunately these were less obstreperous. I pulled up next to two that were already on the road and honked. That turned them and they pushed others before them down the bank. Now they moved along between the car and the fence until they reached the end of the fence line. There they trotted across a lawn and into an open field where they stopped to graze.

    Within minutes the owners showed up and this cowpoke reined his pinto (Ford) back toward town.
 As if that wasn't enough excitement, in the early evening a dozen horses came galloping down the lane in front of our house. They had broken the fence on the other side of that highway and had already crossed it once. A number of us tried to steer them away from the well-traveled road -- I once saw a horse hit by a car and never want to repeat that experience. But these horses must have been fed an oat-laced diet. We turned them twice but a third time they wouldn't be stopped. Despite a near miss by a speeding car, they made it across again and, their evening tour completed, they returned to the pasture from which they started.

    Bucolic yes; calm -- not always.