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Bobolink and the Clash of Two Good Deeds

Bobolinks and the Clash of Two Goods

    Our Vermont meadow was mowed a little late this year. 

    112 acres of the Green Mountain State, once fifty fifty forest and meadow, is now eighty twenty in favor of conifers and deciduates.  The farm group spends twelve hundred dollars a year cutting the hay in a twenty acre hillside meadow, not counting the six hundred dollars I paid Ben to keep the two acres of lawn adjacent to our "camp" cut.  The forest creeps in, like Dunsinane and Macduff, inch by inch.  Yesterday's sapling becomes today's towering birch.  Periodically the Vermont bureaucracy pleads with landowners to maintain open space.  Where's the view if a mighty maple obscures the horizon? 

    Once the view through our front window framed the White Mountains forty miles to the east.  Now Barbara's brother's birch and maple trees, rooted a football field and a half down the hill, allow just a hint of Corinth Corners a mile and a half below and Smart's Mountain across the Connecticut River... sometimes.

    This summer the open meadow concept was questioned.  By someone recently educated in the mating habits of the bobolink.  Said bird winters in Bolivia and flies a few thousand miles north annually just to nest in our meadow before returning to the Andes.  The little bird procreates twice a summer.  In the high grass.  It is especially fond of logging thrash.  For the bobolinks' sake we mowed a little late this year. 

    While the forest encroached slowly on the open meadow.

    I've never seen a bobolink; and I sure would like to see one.  But I can tell you this, I'd rather see than be one.  Because I was one.  Once.  I lived not in high grass but in a colonial on Hillside Avenue.  Our neighbor with apple trees, Grandpa Murphy, Dicky's grandfather, always called me "Bobolink."  "Get out of that tree, Bobolink," Mr. Murphy would yell, "and wait until the apples get ripe."  He was a gentle and kindly Irishman, not like Dicky's dad, a banker with an attitude. 

    The mention of bobolinks aroused in my consciousness a sweet nostalgia.

    Just as the high grass around the dozen apple trees in our meadow view filled me with foreboding that the grass camouflaged aspen saplings.  I bought a weed whacker, an Echo GT225 at Home Depot.  I proceeded to whack the weeds around the apple trees.  Of course, I managed to cripple the device within the first twenty minutes of use.  But I soldiered on with half power.  I thought of Grandpa Murphy and I thought about bobolinks.  I worried that I might inadvertently disturb cohabiting birds.  I never saw a nest.  I demolished lots of ferns and goldenrod.  My T shirt and chinos were flecked with green.  My ancient, now-crumbled fedora shielded me from the deer flies.

    That is, I whacked a fine line between saving the bobolink and maintaining an open meadow.

    We try to teach our children right and wrong.  As if the difference were as simple as white hats and black hats in cowboy movies.  Before very long life teaches our children another lesson, that sometimes the choice to be made is between two wrongs.  Like telling a lie or ratting out a friend.  Like acquiescing to or beating the daylights out of a bully. In World War II a conspirator to the murder of a madman, Hitler, was among the most eloquent and impassioned of commentators on the Sermon on the Mount with its admonitions to love our enemies and turn the other cheek.  Sometimes our choice is between the lesser of two evils.

    But what do we do when two goods collide?  Rejoice?  That it must, therefore, be win win.  When it isn't.  Like our Vermont meadow, where the choice is between bobolinks and scenic views.  Of course, without the mowing there would be in ten years time no meadow... and nowhere for the Bolivian immigrants to nest. 

    So I shall weed whack on, cautiously, while pondering life's enigmas.





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