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The Scene. County currents and undercurrents



Every year, the waning weeks of autumn bring a few seasonal sights to my part of Howard County along the Middle Patuxent River.

One sight is the presence of parked cars alongside Route 144, near Triadelphia Road, where underground natural gas lines run perpendicular to the road.

The cars belong to deer hunters who use the artificial clearing for the gas lines as a trail into the wooded areas. The trail is also used for year-round horseback riding.

This year, however, the sight -- and the evidence -- of hunters are more disheartening. And this is neither a diatribe on the virtues or evils of hunting nor a warning of the inevitable clash of hunters and suburbia.

As a native of the area who has hiked many of these trails for the last 14 years, I can offer one bit of advice. Since the beginning of autumn, I have not seen one deer -- not a doe, buck or fawn, white-tail or any other species.

This is a first-time occurrence for me. In every previous year, autumns were graced by great numbers of deer.

I remember a herd of 12 on an early morning migration along a well-worn trail. Their calm, ritualistic march was an elegant contrast to the loud, frantic whispers of family members within my house alerting others to this event. One alert canine could quickly end this marvelous spectacle.

What caused this apparent dearth? It wasn't hunting. In all my experience, I've never heard a word about a successful deer hunter within county lines. I've heard more about deer kills from cars -- and even those are slackening.

A far blunter force is becoming the effective winnower of deer in my neighborhood: development.

In the last two years, three houses have been built along deer trails, and a nearby acre of 100-year-old trees was harvested solely for cupidity.

The latter act created a poignant vision. During the summer, out among the sawed stumps, I spied a group of deer, looking like an evicted family, lying in the open space among the stumps. It was a unique experience, and my last sighting of deer in the area.

I've read reports of deer overpopulation in several areas in the state and overcrowding in the Catoctin Mountains.

If hunters truly believe that a salutary benefit of their sport is a more stable environmental balance, then their hunting grounds lie elsewhere.

The occasional deer cannot justify the hunt. Regardless of spiraling gas prices, it may serve hunters better to drive those extra miles to find these pockets. Hunting around here is an anachronism; the deer-crossing signs stand as mere curiosities.

SOURCE: Patrick N. Hickerson


Judging from the table talk at the local Republican Women's annual dinner Nov. 29, club members have their priorities in order.

Yes, they were excited by what Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley called being "born again" -- the party's election of "three members of Congress, three county executives and tons of council members and sheriffs" in the Nov. 6 election.

And yes, they agreed that the election of 12 Republicans in 22 local races was, as Bentley said, "fantastic!"

But it was not Bentley or each other they had come to celebrate. Neither was it Florida congressman William McCollum, whose views on the budget, the Middle East, and people's right to own handguns, were received with polite attention.

No, the reason most club members paid $13 for turkey, dressing and underdone string beans was to acknowledge and celebrate the person they had chosen their woman of the year.

Her selection would come as a "surprise only to herself," Penny Emery told her dinner companions. "When I called to nominate her, I was told that I was the 14th or 15th person that day" to do so.

Later, when announcing the winner, club president Lillian M. Mulherin said almost the same thing.

"After 10 or 11 calls, I knew," she said. "There was only one woman everybody wanted. I asked every woman in the club, 'Why pick this particular lady?' " The words coming back -- "courage, caring, loving, loyalty, dedication" -- were "very insignificant" to describe a woman who "accepted each and every challenge of every candidate," and who builds "good character" in the community and is a "great help" to everyone, Mulherin said.

As Mulherin unveiled a portrait of Peg Browning touching an orchid, the audience stood and applauded.

Browning, who has had her esophagus and larynx removed because of cancer, cannot go out in public without a portable oxygen tank attached to her throat with a tube. Tears streaming down her face, she seemed overcome with emotion as the club applauded her.

After what seemed like more than two minutes of sustained applause, Mulherin stepped forward, also in tears.

"Peg thanks you," she said. "I thank you."

The dinner over, people crowded around the 60-year-old Browning to share expressions of appreciation. To their credit, neither Representative Bentley and nor Representative McCollum seemed on this night to object to being afterthoughts.

SOURCE: James M. Coram

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